If you like your insects long, slender and delicate, and resembling a flying neon needle, the damselfly is for you.
Who can resist watching them and photographing them?
The common blue damselfly or Northern Bluet (Enallagma cyathigerum) is as thin as a needle, a jeweled blue needle.
We've seen them hover in our yard, like mini-helicopters--oops, make that "skinny mini" helicopters--and then touch down on a leaf to feast on small insects.
Damselflies share the same order, Odonata, as their larger cousins, the dragonflies. As any entomologist will tell you, damselflies belong to the suborder Zygoptera, and dragonflies, Anisoptera. They are an ancient group, with fossil records showing they existed at least 250 million years ago.
Odonata means "toothed" and Zygoptera means "paired wings."
Damselflies are no "damsels in distress." They're daytime hunters that "consume large quantities of other insects such as flies, mosquitoes and moths and some eat beetles and caterpillars," according to a Texas A&M University (TAMU) website.
Some other facts on the TAMU site:
- In prehistoric times, dragonflies and damselflies were as huge as hawks and were "the largest insects to ever live."
- Worldwide, there are more than 4700 species of Odonata, with Zygoptera accounting for a third fo them
- Males of most damselfly species are brighter-colored than females
- Damselflies neither bite nor sting.
The UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management (UC IPM) describes damselflies this way: "The head is narrow with bulging eyes, long antennae, and tubular-sucking mouthparts. The legs are long and the front pair are slightly swollen with inconspicuous spines. Adults and nymphs can move rapidly when disturbed or stalking prey."
A photography tip: if you spot a damselfly, approach it with your camera already raised. A sudden movement may spook them.
It's a damsel, but not in distress.
It's a Familiar Bluett, but it's not all that familiar--unless you study Odonata.
Lately we've been seeing scores of damseflies zigzagging in our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. Seven showed up at one time on our soon-to-bloom Mexican sunflower (genus Tithonia). They found some prey and decided to stay...for awhile.
Greg Karofelas, an associate at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, identified the damselflies as the Familiar Bluett, (Enallagma civile), family Coenagrionidae. They are native to much of the United States and southern Canada.
"The name fits time of the year, and locality, males are light blue, females dark," Karofelas commented. "Enallagma is a genus with a bunch of very similar looking damselflies--they can be hard to identify, even under 10X magnification, in hand."
This species of damselfly belongs to the order Odonata (dragonflies and damselfies), suborder Zygoptera (damselflies), family Coenagrionidae (narrow-winged damselflies);genus Enallagma (American Bluets), and species
civile (Familiar Bluet).
Wikipedia describes damselflies as "an ancient group," insects that have existed since at least the lower Permian. "All damselflies are predatory; both nymphs and adults eat other insects. The nymphs are aquatic, with different species living in a variety of freshwater habitats including acid bogs, ponds, lakes and rivers."
Watch for them! They're the insect version of the flying needles, and their fabric is our landscapes./span>
They look like shiny blue and black needles.
Make that "flying" shiny blue and black needles.
We spotted this damselfly foraging on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) this week in our family bee garden. The blue was breathtaking.
Can anything be so blue? What species is this?
"By the amount of black on the middle abdominal segments, it looks to me like a male of Enallagma carunculatum Morse," said senior insect biosystematist Rosser W. Garrison, with the California Department of Food and Agricultur'es Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch.
Its common name is "tule bluet." It's a species of damselfly in the family Coenagrionidae, found throughout North America, according to Wikipedia. It's all over the United States, "except for the southeastern quarter."
Its blue and black abdomen is usually more black than blue. It derives its common name, "tule bluet," from the stands of tule it frequents. Its habitat includes rivers, lakes, ponds, marshes and bogs. It likes to hang out in the bulrushes.
The nymphs eat such aquatic insects as mosquito and mayfly larvae, while the adults feet on a wide variety of small flying insects, including mayflies, flies, small moths and mosquitoes. Sometimes they'll grab a few aphids from plants.
Our little buddy (along with other damselflies) was hanging out in our Tithonia patch.
But the Tithonia patch is just a few feet away from our fish pond...
Check out the images of tule bluet on BugGuide.net for more of a blue fix and more information!
Naturalist Greg Karofelas of Davis, an associate of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, has not only seen them, he has photographed them. See his truly spectacular photo below.
The mites look like a cross between pomegranate kernels and salmon eggs. They are hitchhikers!
It's a good case of phoresy, or the symbiotic relationship in which one organism transports another organism of a different species.
Scenario: Say a damselfly is laying her eggs in a fish pond or the wetlands. Say some mites are waiting for her. They seek free meals and a free ride to the next pond to find mates and reproduce.
The damselfly dips down. They jump up.
What a load!
We wrote about these mites in a Bug Squad blog on July 25, 2013.
As for the image of the water mites that Greg Kareofelas captured, he suspects they may be Arrenurus mitoensis.
All we can say is "Wow!" Great image, Greg!
The result was a good one: more damselflies.
Damselflies lay their eggs in water, whether it be a pond, underwater vegetation, or in water-filled cavities in trees. If they lay their eggs in a fish pond, fish feast on the eggs and larvae.
But not this year, not in our pond. One egret. No fish. And now damselflies are no longer in distress.
On any given day, 20 to 25 damselflies flit around our bee garden, searching for food as they land on the stems of the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), catmint (Nepata), and oregano (Origanum).
They also search for mates and occasionally collide with a bee or butterfly.
Most of the damselflies we see carry the parasitic water mites (Hydracarina), which look like red caviar.
Damselfles and dragonflies belong to the same order, Odonata. Damselflies, however, are typically much smaller than their dragonfly cousins. Wikipedia tells us that damselflies, suborder Zygoptera, can be distinguished from dragonflies "by the fact that the wings of most damselflies are held along, and parallel to, the body when at rest. Furthermore, the hindwing of the damselfly is essentially similar to the forewing, while the hindwing of the dragonfly broadens near the base.
We've never seen a damselfly eat anything or anything eat the damselfly, although our resident praying mantis seemed quite interested--or perturbed--when a damselfly bumped into him.