There are many types of flying insects, and some of them look pretty similar to each other. Two such insects are the dragonfly and the damselfly. These two flying predators of the insect world look remarkably alike; many people easily confuse them. So, what is the difference between a dragonfly and a damselfly? And how can you tell them apart? Keep reading! In this article we’ll answer these questions and more!
What You'll Learn Today
What is a Dragonfly?
Dragonflies are strong, powerful predatory insects. There are around 3,000 species of dragonfly, and though they mostly live in warm, tropical areas, many species can be found throughout the world.
Dragonflies have long, thick bodies, large, powerful wings, and massive eyes that take up most of their head, nearly touching at the top of the head. They come in a wide range of colors and patterns.
Their wings have to be warm to allow them to fly, so they often warm them up by vibrating them or basking in the sun. When in flight, their wings beat so fast that they usually can’t be seen by human eyes in real time; this flight pattern allows them to move extremely fast, as much as 34 miles per hour in any direction.
Dragonflies lay eggs in or near sources of freshwater. The eggs hatch out and the larvae live underwater, hunting insects and other small water creatures and molting repeatedly; finally, they leave the water and molt for the last time, becoming adult dragonflies.
Adult dragonflies, like their larvae, are also intense hunters. They will stalk, capture, and eat all kinds of insects, including those weighing up to 60 percent their own body weight.
What is a Damselfly?
Damselflies, as their name suggests, are smaller and more graceful-looking predatory insects that are often confused with dragonflies. There are about 2,600 species of damselfly and they can be found around freshwater habitats throughout the world.
Damselflies have long, thin, slender bodies, large, delicate wings, and large eyes spread far apart from each other. They come in many colors and patterns, but they are often vivid shades of black, blue, and green.
Damselflies have a slower, more graceful flight pattern than dragonflies. Though some species beat their wings quite fast and move similar to dragonflies, many others flap their wings in a pattern more similar to that of butterflies, and all of them move much more slowly than dragonflies.
Damselflies also lay their eggs in or near water sources, and their life cycle closely mimics that of dragonflies. The young damselflies live in water and molt repeatedly before emerging, shedding their skin a final time, and flying away as adults.
Though damselflies don’t look nearly as formidable as dragonflies, they are also predatory insects. They hunt and eat many different kinds of small insects.
Dragonflies Vs Damselflies: Similarities and Differences
At first glance, dragonflies and damselflies look quite similar, but as you can tell from the above sections, they have many differences as well. Let’s take a closer look at their similarities and differences.
- Scientific order: Both dragonflies and damselflies belong to the Odonata order of insects. This means that, while they are not the same type of insect, they are related to each other.
- Life cycle: Both dragonflies and damselflies have similar life stages. They both begin as eggs, hatch out as aquatic predators, shed their skin repeatedly, and finally emerge from the water to molt a final time and fly off after gaining their wings.
- General appearance: Both dragonflies and damselflies have long bodies, large eyes, and two pairs of wings. Many people think that damselflies are simply small, graceful-looking dragonflies.
- Diet: Both dragonflies and damselflies are predatory creatures. They both eat nearly any insect that they are able to capture and kill.
- Scientific suborders: Though they belong to the same scientific order, dragonflies and damselflies are divided into different suborders of insects. Dragonflies belong to the suborder Anisoptera, while damselflies belong to the suborder Zygoptera.
- Size: Dragonflies are generally larger than damselflies. Most dragonflies are more than two inches long, and some are much larger; on the other hand, most damselflies are less than two inches long, and some may be less than an inch.
- Body thickness: Dragonflies generally have larger, thicker, more powerful looking bodies. Damselflies tend to have long, slender, needle-like bodies.
- Eyes: Though both dragonflies and damselflies have large eyes, the positioning of the eyes sets them apart. The eyes of dragonflies are positioned more toward the top of the head and, on many species, nearly touch each other; but the eyes of damselflies are usually on the sides of their head and never come close to touching.
- Wings and resting position: Both dragonflies and damselflies have two sets of wings; but with dragonflies, the bottom wings are generally broader than the top wings, while with damselflies, both sets of wings are identical. Dragonflies typically rest with their wings spread open and angled down, while damselflies rest with their wings folded closed across their abdomen.
- Flight pattern: Dragonflies have a fast, direct, and agile sort of flight pattern. Damselflies, on the other hand, have a much slower, more graceful flight pattern.
How to Quickly Tell the Difference Between Dragonflies and Damselflies
Though they look similar and might be considered cousins, dragonflies and damselflies are not the same kind of insect; in fact dragonflies frequently eat damselflies, as shown in the video below:
So, how can you tell the difference between them if you’re casually observing? What are some clues that will help you immediately determine whether that was a dragonfly or a damselfly that just flew past?
- Consider the flying style: Did the insect sort of slowly flit past like a butterfly looking for flowers, or did it dart past like a creature on a mission? Slower flight would indicate you saw a damselfly, while more intense flight would point toward a dragonfly.
- Consider the size: Did you find yourself thinking the insect looked kind of small for a dragonfly, or were you amazed by just how large it actually was? Remember, damselflies are typically smaller, while dragonflies are typically larger.
- Consider the coloring: Were you amazed by how vividly colored the insect was? Both dragonflies and damselflies come in many different colors, but damselflies tend to be more brightly colored than dragonflies.
Dragonflies and damselflies are often confused for each other, but they have many differences that help to set them apart. Dragonflies are typically larger and more powerfully built, while damselflies are more slender and have a slower, more graceful flight pattern.