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What Is a Damselfly?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2016
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The damselfly is a type of insect related to the dragonfly, and similar in appearance. There are numerous species of damselflies. Like dragonflies, they typically belong to the order Odonata, though dragonflies, usually belong to the suborder Anisoptera, while damselflies usually belong to the suborder Zygoptera. Various species of damselfly can be found around the world, although most species do not have a very wide range. They usually live near water, especially forested rivers and streams.

One of the major differences between most species of damselfly and most species of dragonfly is that most damselflies are known to close their wings when at rest. Some species, however, such as those belonging to the family Lestidae, have been observed perching with open wings, in a manner similar to most dragonfly species. Damselflies also typically have narrower hind wings than do dragonflies, are smaller in size, and have two distinctly separate eyes.

A single damselfly can live up to two years from the time it hatches. Females of the species usually deposit their eggs underneath the water, and the eggs can take about a week to hatch. The hatchlings are usually referred to as nymphs or naiads, and they are generally aquatic and will usually feed by hunting larvae and other small insects and invertebrates. These nymphs often undergo a long process of transformation before they reach adulthood. The typical damselfly species sheds its skin between nine and 17 times as it is maturing.

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Damselfly nymphs do not typically leave the water until they are ready to make their final transformation into adulthood. When this time comes, they will usually drag themselves from the water and take shelter in plants or grasses at the water's edge. Here, the adult will shed its skin and prepare itself for flight.

Once the damselfly has reached adulthood, it will typically reproduce and die within a few months. These insects generally mate in much the same way as dragonflies. The male of the species generally produces sperm from an abdominal organ. The male will normally use its forelegs to grasp the female's abdomen, right behind her head, allowing her to curve her body forward to make contact with the male's genital organ. Together, the two mating insects will often form a circle with their bodies, though they are usually still able to fly in this position.

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