General Topics

Damselflies of Missouri

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Arthropoda

Subphylum: Hexapoda

Class: Insecta

Order: Odonata

Suborder: Zygoptera

Identification

Like dragonflies, damselflies have two sets of wings. What sets them apart is that all four wings of the damselfly are identical in shape and are wider at the tip, they also taper inward where they connect to the body (think of a teardrop shape). The most obvious factor of identification is to look for wings that are parallel to the body when at rest.

Families Present in the Missourian Region:

  • Broad-winged Damsel Family Calopterygidae
  • Spreadwing Family Lestidae
  • Pond Damsel Family Coenagrionidae

Pond Damsel Family (Coenagrionidae)

With metallic bodies and colored wings, these large, embellished odonates are the showiest family of all the damselflies. What sets them apart from other North American damselflies are the dense venation on their wings and the lack of the narrow petiole at the base. In addition, individuals of this family point their abdomen towards the sun (obelisking) at high temperatures and hold close wings either on one side or above the abdomen as means of regulating temperature.

Species in Missouri:

Ebony Jewelwing Calopteryx maculate

Sells, Lisa. “Zen Through a Lens.” Zen Through a Lens, Blogger, 5 Aug. 2012, www.zenthroughalens.com/

Male: Dark brown eyes. Luminous metallic green (often appear turquoise) all over with exaggerated black wings. Immatures distinguished by lighter brown eyes.

Female: Duller body, with conspicuous white stigma and wings paler at base than in male.

Tips in identification – Females with paler wing bases could be mistaken for female River Jewelwing, but the only other black-winged damselfly in range are Smoky Rubyspots with an all-black body and narrower wings.

American Rubyspot Hetaerina Americana

Schmierer, Alan. American Rubyspot. Flickr, September 27, 2012, https://flic.kr/p/deQ8ma

Male: Dark reddish-brown eyes with pale gradient below and behind. Metallic red head and thorax, shiny black abdomen. Bright red patches at wing base marked by white veins can vary up to the nodus.

Female: Eyes brown over tan, paler than in male. Body can vary from matte black to metallic green or red (head and thorax only). Wings can range from almost uncoloured to diffuse/dark orange wash at base.

Tips in identification – Larger than other closedwing damselflies except Jewelwings. Males might be confused with Smoky Rubyspot (compare images). Females distinguish from pond damsels by large size, densely veined wings, and metallic green/orange body with distinct stripes on thorax. Stigmas whitish and relatively shorter than those of Spreadwings.

Smoky Rubyspot Hetaerina titia

Keim, Mary. Smoky Rubyspot. Flickr, the Encyclopedia of Life, August 17, 2016, https://flic.kr/p/L7evam

Male: Dark brown to black eyes. Entirely black body with greenish gloss and fine tan stripes on thorax. Notice the red patch in forewing obscured by dark patch in hindwing when in flight. Males flick open wings to show off red coloration when another male flies over.

Female: Eyes brown over tan, often with striped or spotted pattern. Thorax with metallic green markings on pale brown; abdomen mostly black. Wings vary from dusky to black, with no red and stark white stigmas. Females not at water unless mating.

Tips in identification – Individuals with mostly dark wings are easily distinguished from other rubyspots and other all other damselflies. Tendency for black-winged individuals in summer, clear-winged in fall and spring.

Spreadwing Family (Lestidae)

The damselflies of this family are all relatively large in size and most are larger than pond damsels. The spreadwings have an unique characteristic of closing their wings at night, in bad weather, and when threatened by predators or other males harassing females. Those with a long abdomen perch downward, even vertically. Most North American species are dark with metallic surfaces on top of abdomens. All have clear wings with stigma longer than in pond damsels, a definite mark, and long legs with very long leg spines, as befits a predator on flying insects.

Species in Missouri:

Great Spreadwing Achilestes grandis

Stylurus. Coupled Great Spreadwing. Flickr, Encyclopedia of Life, October 7, 2007, https://flic.kr/p/3iq9S3

Male: Blue eyes and labrum. Front of thorax is brown, full-length metallic green stripes on either side of mid-line. Side of thorax is yellow with another light brown stripe along lower sides – mature males develop a white pruinosity on most segments.

Female: Blue or brown eyes. Same characteristics as male except bulbous abdomen tip lacking pruinosity.

Tips in Identification – Largest North American damselfly with a total length of approximately 50-62 mm, no other species in the region come close to this size.

Southern Spreadwing Lestes australis

Lee, Cletus. Southern Spreadwing. Flickr, June 8, 2012, https://flic.kr/p/bWXFsi

Male: Front of thorax mostly metallic brown with light brown stripe that transitions to blue with age. Top of abdomen can be either metallic green or bronze.

Female: Brown eyes are most common, but can sometimes be tinted with blue. Abdomen color almost identical to that of male’s, but not pruinose.

Tips in Identification – Very common eastern species, and is known under the name ‘Common Spreadwing’ in some areas. Often mistaken for Northern and Sweetflag Spreadwings due to overlapping habitat regions.

Lyre-tipped Spreadwing Lestes unguiculatus

Mullen, Dan. Male Lyre-tipped Spreadwing Damselfly. Flickr. July 19, 2011, https://flic.kr/p/afjTux

Male: Dark metallic brown thorax front with pale blue sides (pruinosity present). Metallic dark green/brown abdomen.

Female: Brown or blue eyes. Metallic brown thorax with either pale blue, green or yellow sides. Abdomen is entirely metallic brown to green above.

Tips in Identification – Common Spreadwing species in temporary wetlands. Widely distributed in west from southern Canadian provinces to northern California, as well as eastern Colorado.

Slender Spreadwing Lestes rectangularis

Henise, Don. Slender Spreadwing. Flickr, September 4, 2017, https://flic.kr/p/XT6bB5

Male: Black frontal thorax with wide blue stripes. Pale yellow on sides and undersides.

Female: Shorter than male and shaped like most other spreadwings in terms of length. Blue or yellow eyes. No pruinosity.

Tips in Identification – Key distinguishing point is the male’s lack of pruinosity (which is common to almost all male damselflies) on abdomen and looking proportionally longer than other similar species. Also look out for pale wing tips on both sexes.

Other Spreadwing Species in Missouri:

Spotted Spreadwing Lestes congener

Pond Damsel Family (Coenagrionidae)

The second-largest family of odonates, and the largest family of damselflies. Their habitats are dominantly open ponds, marshes and tropical streams, and are present almost everywhere in the world. A common characteristic is their small size and narrow wings, thus their nickname ‘narrow-winged damsels’.

Species in Missouri:

American Bluets Enallagma

Large genus of small to medium-sized damselflies with populations primarily in North America, with a few in Eurasia (though not very common). Most American bluets are blue and black, with the exception of some yellow to red species.

Familiar Bluet Enallagma civile

Lo, Bryan. Familiar Bluet at Taum Sauk

Male: Blue eyes and small black caps. Bluet stripes on thorax. Large blue middle segments with a black spot on the second segment of its abdomen.

Female: Polymorphic and can vary between blue or brown. Tan to greenish eyes with brown cap.

Tips in Identification – This dragonfly species is extremely abundant in Missouri but very local. The distinguishing factor is that females’ abdomen has black covering along all segments, with typical bluet torpedo pattern evident.

Turquoise Bluet Enallagma divagnans

McMasters, Melissa. Turquoise Bluets. Flickr, June 13, 2014, https://flic.kr/p/v7a1mZ

Male: Blue eyes with small black cap and horizontal dark stripe. Black abdomen with blue or turquoise sides.

Female: Eyes are brown on top, and tan below. Thorax similar to that of male’s with a mix of dull green.

Tips in Identification – Immature females of orange bluet group (Florida, Golden, Orange, Vesper) can have similar appearance to Turquoise Bluet, but have less blue at abdomen tip.

Orange Bluet Enallagma signatum

Hodnett, Ryan. Orange Bluet Female. Flickr, June 25, 2017, https://flic.kr/p/Xp4zdn. Ueda, Ken-ichi. Orange Bluet. Flickr, July 27, 2014, https://flic.kr/p/oM8p58

Male: Orange eyes and thorax.

Female: May be orange (duller than male), blue, or green. Eyes are brown over green or tan.

Tips in Identification – Both immature males and females are initially pale blue that then turn orange with age.

Vesper Bluet Enallagma vesperum

McMasters, Melissa McMasters. Vesper Bluet. Flickr, August 7, 2018, https://flic.kr/p/28Ah16v

Male: Eyes gradient from orange to yellow (top to bottom). Yellow thorax with narrow dark brown median striple.

Female: Eyes similar to males except more orange/brown. Thorax commonly green and pale turquoise but can also be yellow or orange (polymorphic).

Tips in Identification – Both sexes are slender with yellow thorax and blue abdomen tip. Most active during the evening. Immature females are often mistaken for female Turquoise Bluets, but region distribution separates them from coexistence.

Other Bluet Species in Missouri:

Skimming Bluet Enallagma geminatum
Tule Bluet Enallagma carunculatum
Azure Bluet Enallagma aspersum
Slender Bluet Enallagma traviatum
Double-striped Bluet Enallagma basidens
Stream Bluet Enallagma exsulans

Forktails ischnura

A genus of very small damselflies with worldwide distribution, reaching as far as many Oceanic islands. The name “forktail” is derived from the forked projection at the end segments of male species.

Lilypad Forktail Ischnura kellicotti

Morrison, Ann Marie. F. Lilypad Forktail. Flickr, August 12, 2013, https://flic.kr/p/ftfHTM

Male: Dark blue eyes with large black cap. Thorax mostly blue with wide median and humeral stripes. Black abdomen with hint of bright blue on some segments.

Female: Green eyes with black cap. Mature females have same thorax and abdomen color as male, while immature females have a bright orange appearance.

Tips in Identification – Wing color change from bright amber in newly emerged younglings to clear as the individual age. Lilypad differ from Skimming Forktails by bright blue eyes (mostly brown in Skimming). Often found regulating body heat on lilypads, hence the name.

Citrine Forktail Ischnura hastate

Brown, Lisa. New Species. Flickr, August 21, 2010, https://flic.kr/p/8utjRu. McMasters, Melissa. Citrine Forktail. Flickr, May 22, 2013, https://flic.kr/p/y4j5ZC

Male: Yellow to green gradient in eyes. Thorax striped green and black, with wide humeral stripe. Distinctively yellow abdomen with green base. Stigma on forewing is orange.

Female: Dull green eyes with brown cap. Black frontal thorax and white on lower sides. Immature females are mostly bright orange.

Tips in Identification – Tiny in size compared to other species of damselflies. Yellow males are almost unmistakable. Often found in high densities at appropriate habitats such as edges of ponds and lakes. Most females mate only once, then use stored sperm to fertilize future eggs.

Other Forktail Species in Missouri:

Fragile Forktail Ischnura posita
Eastern Forktail Ischnura verticalis

Red Damsels Amphiagrion

This distinctive genus of damselflies is unique to North America. Males are bright red with hints of black and females are slightly duller. A bulky and somewhat hairy thorax is seen in both sexes.

Eastern Red Damsel Amphiagrion saucium

Henise, Don. Eastern Red Damsel. Flickr, May 29, 2017, https://flic.kr/p/V3DK1w

Male: Reddish-brown eyes with horizontal stripes, and are paler on the underside. Thorax is black in front and reddish on sides. The abdomen is bright crimson and marked at tip with black. Legs are also red in most regions.

Female: Light brown eyes that are faintly striped. The thorax is dull orange and the abdomen is red-orange.

Tips in Identification – Only type of small red damselfly in the surrounding regions. Likes to perch on sedge or grass stems, not fond of flat leaves. Sometimes even found in acid bogs!

Firetails Telebasis

These neotropical damselflies are commonly found in floating vegetation, such as duckweeds or water lettuce. In terms of appearance, they are predominately red and lack postocular spots (unlike other North American pond damsels).

Duckweed Firetail Telebasis byersi

Irizarry, Dan Irizarry. Duckweed Firetail. Flickr, July 16, 2011. https://flic.kr/p/a4JB35

Male: Red to yellow gradient eyes. Black head with no postocular spots and a red face. Thorax is bright crimson sides and slightly paler below. Abdomen is entirely red, giving an overall fiery appearance.

Female: Brown and reddish eyes with a hint of tan below. Brown head with black markings. Abdomen and thorax differ from males and are much duller.

Tips in Identification – Often seen flying low and resting on carpet of duckweed on water surfaces. Pairs oviposit in tandem on same carpet. Typically found in swamps with abundance of duckweed or water lettuce, not so much in water lilies or grass beds.

Dancers Argia

The bouncy and jagged flight style of this species differs greatly from the smooth thrusting motion of bluets, forktails and other pond damsels. Their wings have a slightly shorter petiole and is most likely an adaption to swiftly capture flying insects. Many species of the Dancer genus open and close their wings in a ‘wing clapping’ fashion.

Blue-fronted Dancer Argia apicalis

DeLoach, Vicki. Blue Fronted Dancer in Zinnias. Flickr, July 18, 2016, https://flic.kr/p/K5Nfwf

Male: Blue to brown gradient eyes. Blue thorax that fades to a lighter shade on the sides, but is duller than most other blue colored species. Blue polygon-like shape above each middle leg.

Female: Polymorphic colorways. Some females are green and can change with age. Oviposting blue females also become duller, to a shade of blue-grey.

Tips in Identification – Dancer species perch with wings raised above the abdomen unlike all other North American pond damsels that hold them alongside the abdomen (Sprites are the only exception).

Powdered Dancer Argia moesta

Gallagher, Judy. Powdered Dancer. Flickr, August 7, 2018, https://flic.kr/p/28MkFrT

Male: Pale grey brown eyes. Wide and complete black stripes on abdomen make it mostly black above with contrasting white rings at base (some individuals may show tinges of blue). In drier regions, powdery texture can cover the entire body.

Female: Either entirely light blue or largely blue on head and thorax, although brown is more common. Blue females may be green when younger, and their thorax would typically turn grey when mating, however the face remains blue.

Tips in Identification – One of the bigger dancer species in terms of size and with large areas of pruinosity (white powdery texture) especially in males.

Variable Dancer Argia fumipennis

Keim, Mary. Variable Dancers. Flickr, May 24, 2013, https://flic.kr/p/etrzPz.

Male: Eyes brown above and violet below. Thorax and abdomen is predominantly violet with a slight gradient of blue towards the end segment.

Female: Brown eyes and thorax. No entirely blue females.

Tips in Identification – The coloration of violet and blue in males is unique among North American damselflies. Only North American odonate that has been given subspecies. The most common population is the Violet Dancer (Argia fumipennis violacea). The other two are the Smoky-winged Dancer (Southeastern coastal plain) and Black-bodied Dancer (Florida Peninsula).

Other Dancer Species in Missouri:

Seepage Dancer Argia bipunctulata
Blue-ringed Dancer Argia sedula
Blue-tipped Dancer Argia tibialis
Dusky Dancer Argia translate
Springwater Dancer Argia plana

Mating

Odonates usually mate on, or near water, but many species also practice mating away from water and later go there to lay eggs. The site of where mating occurs is known as the rendezvous. In most cases, the male grabs the female with his legs and attempts to clasp her with his terminal appendix, and is able to retain his grip on the front portion of the female’s thorax, using claspers located at the tip of his abdomen. After the female is firmly clasped, the male will then take a moment to transfer sperm from the genital opening under his ninth segment to an organ of sperm storage, the seminal vesicle. He will then attempt to swing her abdomen forward to contact those genital with the tip of her abdomen. If the connection fits, the penis transfers sperm through the female’s genital pore into her vagina. Fertilization may take place immediately, or sometimes the female would store the sperm for future usage. During the act of mating, the male supports them both on a perch; some species copulate in flight. The mating position of odonates is unique and looks like a heart or wheel.

Here’s a video if you want to find out more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZCDTMN2P1w

© Lisa Chen 2018

Damselfly Anatomy

© Lisa Chen 2018

© Lisa Chen 2018

Sources:

Paulson, Dennis. Dragonflies and Damsellflies of the East. Princeton University Press 2011.

Bartlett, Troy. “Suborder Zygoptera – Damselflies.” Species Bombus Auricomus – Black-and-Gold Bumble Bee – BugGuide.Net, 29 Dec. 2014.

“Biology & Ecology.” British-Dragonflies.org.uk.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Damselfly.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 5 June 2009.

Dragonfly Society of the Americas. 2012. North American Odonata

Hadley, Debbie. “How Do You Tell the Difference Between Dragonflies and Damselflies?” Thoughtco., Dotdash, 20 Apr. 2018.

Sabet-Peyman, Jason Sabet-Peyman. “Introduction to the Odonata.” Introduction to the Aquifoliaceae, 16 July 2000.

Sells, Lisa. “Zen Through a Lens.” Zen Through a Lens, Blogger, 5 Aug. 2012.

https://flic.kr/g/88z8N (All images are under the Creative Commons License, free to share and adapt on any platform)