The Dainty but Ferocious Damselfly

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The Dainty but Ferocious Damselfly

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This dainty but ferocious male Sedge Sprite is perched on a Clethra flower bud with its leafhopper prey.

The very name Damselfly creates a docile image of these small insects that live in and around our pond.

But this is no damsel in distress. They’re ferocious carnivores with serrated jaws for feeding. Damselflies have a weak flight that is fairy-like in nature. Their bodies are slender compared to length that is only 1-2 inches with long, narrow, and clear veined wings. Unless you’re looking for one, they’re easy to miss moving about the vegetation, low around a pond.
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Most of the species we have are Pond Damsels. This family has names like Forktails, Bluets, Sprites, and Dancers. The most abundant species in our yard is the Eastern Forktail followed by the similar but even smaller Fragile Forktail.
There are two additional families - the Spreadwing and Broad-winged (Jewelwing) Damselflies. These damselflies are a little larger and more conspicuous. The Ebony Jewelwing is a stunning find when hiking in wooded areas near running streams. They are mostly dark, but they flash iridescent greens, blues and purples when specks of light hit them through the canopy. The Spreadwings are a little larger and hang off vertical vegetation with partly open wings when resting. It is easy to see that their wings are similarly sized.
We find Eastern Forktails at most natural water sources, so their abundance is widespread. Identification of this species is confusing because the sexes and young have different colors and patterns. They have one look when newly emerged from molting (called “teneral”). The females have three separate color forms – one bright orange immature form, one mature form where it look like a male, and a more typical powdery blue-gray mature form. We figured out early that if we were ever going to discover other species of damselflies in our yard we’d have to start with “why isn’t it an Eastern Forktail”.
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Next time you’re near a pond during the summer months, first admire the dragonflies darting about. Then look down and around the edge of the pond closely to admire some of the Damselflies.

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