Dragonflies and damselflies belong to the order Odonata (“toothed ones”). They are carnivorous predators that first appeared in Pennsylvanian sediments deposited about 325 million years ago. In these creatures, evolution produced a good physical design quite early. Only minor changes have occurred over the past 200 million years. Compare that to the mammal predators, most of which have been around for less than 50 million years.
Odonata consume large numbers of small creatures. Like most predators, the Odonata have very good vision and are capable of fast agile movement. Since mosquitoes are among their prey, I think dragonflies and damselflies are ‘beneficial’ insects and appreciate the common name, “mosquito hawks”. Beekeepers may disagree, however, as dragonflies are capable of taking down a honey bee.
The two groups hold their wings differently when perched. Dragonflies, like the one in the photograph, do not bring their wings together above their back. Damselflies do.
The photo shows a pond skimmer near the Agua Fria River. This one is probably a female Flame Skimmer or a female Neon Skimmer.
Odonata are most abundant around water. Their eggs are laid in water and their nymphs develop there. Usually a final molt occurs within one or two years and the mature insects take flight.
Odonata spend so much of their life in water that their success is influenced by water quality. Dragonflies are more sensitive than damselflies. When dragonflies are numerous, the local ecosystem is healthy.
Numbers (species identified/probable total)*
* Data from Arizona Odonates & OdonataCentral websites.
Field guides by Behrstock (2008), Dunkle (2000) and Paulson (2009) are included along with Internet addresses for Arizona Odonates and OdonataCentral. Both sites include photographs, occurrence maps, flight season dates, and checklists for Arizona counties. I used the photos to decide that the dragonfly in the photo above is either a female Flame Skimmer or a female Neon Skimmer. Wikipedia has some nice articles.
Arizona Odonates (Damselflies and Dragonflies): http://www.azodes.com.
Behrstock, R.A. 2008. Dragonflies and damselflies of the Southwest. Rio Nuevo Publishers, Tucson, AZ, 96 p.
Corbet, P, 1999. Dragonflies — Behavior and Ecology of Odonata. Comstock Pub. Assoc., New York. 829 p.
Dunkle, S.W. 2000. Dragnoflies through binoculars: A field guide to dragonflies of North America. Oxford University Press, New York, NY. 266 p.
Paulson, D. 2009. Dragonflies and damselflies of the West. Princeton Press. Princeton, NJ. 536 p.
Checklist for Yavapai County, AZ.
|Damselflies and Dragonflies|
|Zygoptera Calopterygidae (Broad-Wing Damsels)|
|American Rubyspot (Hetaerina americana)|
|Canyon Rubyspot (Hetaerina vulnerata)|
|Zygoptera Lestidae (Spreadwings)|
|Great Spreadwing (Archilestes grandis)|
|Plateau Spreadwing (Lestes alacer)|
|Spotted Spreadwing (Lestes congener)|
|Emerald Spreadwing (Lestes dryas)|
|Zygoptera Coenagrionidae (Pond Damsels)|
|California Dancer (Argia agrioides)|
|Violet Dancer (Argia fumipennis)|
|Lavender Dancer (Argia hinei)|
|Sooty Dancer (Argia lugens)|
|Powdered Dancer (Argia moesta)|
|Aztec Dancer (Argia nahuana)|
|Fiery-eyed Dancer (Argia oenea)|
|Amethyst Dancer (Argia pallens)|
|Pima Dancer (Argia pima)|
|Springwater Dancer (Argia plana)|
|Blue-ringed Dancer (Argia sedula)|
|Tonto Dancer (Argia tonto)|
|Dusky Dancer (Argia translata)|
|Double-striped Bluet (Enallagma basidens)|
|Boreal Bluet (Enallagma boreale)|
|Tule Bluet (Enallagma carunculatum)|
|Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile)|
|Arroyo Bluet (Enallagma praevarum)|
|Painted Damsel (Hesperagrion heterodoxum)|
|Desert Forktail (Ischnura barberi)|
|Plains Forktail (Ischnura damula)|
|Mexican Forktail (Ischnura demorsa)|
|Black-fronted Forktail (Ischnura denticollis)|
|Citrine Forktail (Ischnura hastata)|
|Desert Firetail (Telebasis salva)|
|Anisoptera Aeshnida (Darnerses)|
|Persephone’s Darner (Aeshna persephone)|
|Common Green Darner (Anax junius)|
|Giant Darner (Anax walsinghami)|
|Blue-eyed Darner (Rhionaeshna multicolor)|
|Anisoptera Gomphidae (Clubtails)|
|White-belted Ringtail (Erpetogomphus compositus)|
|Serpent Ringtail (Erpetogomphus lampropeltis)|
|Gray Sanddragon (Progomphus borealis)|
|Russet-tipped Clubtail (Stylurus plagiatus)|
|Anisoptera Macromiidae (Cruisers)|
|Western River Cruiser (Macromia magnifica)|
|Anisoptera Libellulidae (Skimmers)|
|Pale-faced Clubskimmer (Brechmorhoga mendax)|
|Black Setwing (Dythemis nigrescens)|
|Western Pondhawk (Erythemis collocata)|
|Plateau Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax basifusca)|
|Comanche Skimmer (Libellula comanche)|
|Neon Skimmer (Libellula croceipennis)|
|Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa)|
|Common Whitetail (Libellula lydia)|
|Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella)|
|Flame Skimmer (Libellula saturata)|
|Desert Whitetail (Libellula subornata)|
|Roseate Skimmer (Orthemis ferruginea)|
|Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis)|
|Red Rock Skimmer (Paltothemis lineatipes)|
|Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens)|
|Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea)|
|Mexican Amberwing (Perithemis intensa)|
|Filigree Skimmer (Pseudoleon superbus)|
|Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum)|
|Western Meadowhawk (Sympetrum occidentale)|
|Striped Meadowhawk (Sympetrum pallipes)|
|Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata)|
|Red Saddlebags (Tramea onusta)|