Dragons and Damsels

Happy first full day of Summer! Let’s celebrate by taking a closer look at some amazing creatures….Odonates! Odo-what? Odonata is the order of dragonflies and damselflies. These incredible insects are colorful, interesting, and fascinating. They have amazing adaptations for catching their food, securing mates, and avoiding predators. Let’s start by looking at the differences between dragonflies and damselflies.

Left: male eastern pondhawk Erythemis simplicicollis

Right: male Violet Dancer Argia fumipennis violacea

On the left is a dragonfly. Note the thicker body and outstretched wings. The damselfly is on the right. This guy has a very slender body and the wings are held folded over the top of the body. These are general ways to tell the difference between them. Also, in general dragonflies will be larger than their cousins. Of course, there are exceptions.
This is a female elegant spreadwing damselfly Lestes inaequalis. As you can see it holds its wings out flat like a dragonfly. These are also some of the largest damselflies you may encounter. This particular species can range in length from 1.8 inches to 2.3 inches.
Sometimes identification can be challenging especially when looking at an immature adult. Upon emerging from the water as an adult, the dragon or damsel may not have the full flush of color that it will eventually get when ready to mate. A good example of this is with the common whitetail dragonfly Libellula lydia. Take a look at the next three pictures.

The top photo is of a mature male common whitetail. The middle photo is of the immature male, and the bottom picture is female whitetail. 
Next up we have two of our most common damselflies. The topmost picture is of a male fragile forktail, Ischnura posita. Note his “exclamation point” on the top of his thorax. 

 Next up is his cousin the eastern forktail, Ischnura verticalis. This is a male also and I apologize for the blurry picture. I tried and tried to find another to photograph, but no luck! This guy has solid green stripes on his thorax and a blue spot at the end of the abdomen.

Also an eastern forktail this beauty is an immature female. Too bad she doesn’t stay this color!

She ends up a powdery blue. Not bad, but I like the orange better! (side note: the mature female fragile forktail looks very similar and the ID on this pic is really just my best guess.)

One species of damselfly really outshines all the rest, at least here at Wahkeena. Ebony jewelwings, Calopteryx maculata can be seen fluttering along the woodland edges near the old garden and near the parking lot. What better way to enter the preserve! The top photo is of the male and the bottom photo is of the female. Note the white dots on the top edge of her wings. This area of the wing is call the stigma, and the color of it can be helpful in identifying dragons and damsels.

The last damselfly I have a picture of is a male skimming bluet, Enallagma geminatum. There are many different kinds of bluet species and as a group can be difficult to tell apart. Luckily, this species has a distinct marking near the thorax that makes the ID easier.  All Odonates are fierce predators and if you happen to be a mosquito, watch out!

 Heading back to the bigger and often more colorful dragonflies, next is a female black saddlebags, Tramea lacerata. These are large, handsome dragonflies and you can see how they got their name.

Another large and conspicuous dragonfly is the slaty skimmer, Libellula incesta. Pictured is a male. These are fairly easy to photograph as they tend to come back to the same perch after making the rounds of their territory.
I would have to say that this dragonfly is the most common one we see flying along the edges of the pond during the summer. This is a male blue dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis. Although smaller that the slatey skimmer, they too are good perchers and make for easy photography subjects. 
When in flight, this next species could be confused with the dasher we just looked at. This guy is the eastern pondhawk, Erythemis simplicicollis. I tend to notice the females and immature males of this species more than the mature male like the one pictured below.

This is an immature male eastern pondhawk. The females look similar.

One of the earliest dragonflies to be on the wing in the spring is the common baskettail, Epitheca cynosaura. When they first emerge I often see them in sunny spots in the woods. 

Lastly, here is a male and female spangled skimmer, Libellula cyanea. Both of them are quite striking, especially sporting those bright white stigmas.  The male is reminiscent of the slaty skimmer but a little lighter blue and again the white stigmas are very obvious even in flight.

This female is adorned with yellow and black on here abdomen and the tips of her wing look like they were dipped in ink!

I hope you enjoyed this brief foray into the world of Odonata. If this has peaked your interest at all in these amazing creatures join us on July 12 for a Dragonfly and Damselfly workshop hosted by Bob Glotzhober. Reservations are required and you can find out additional information about the workshop by clicking here.

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