Dragons and Damsels

by | Feb 9, 2018 | Fauna, Native Plants

Dragonflies and damselflies add fluttering beauty to gardens with large, lacy wings and bold colors. They’re also known to eat less desirable insects such as aphids and mosquitoes. Not sure how to tell these fancy fliers apart? Here’s a crash course featuring two common species of the order Odonata.

ILLUSTRATIONS Samantha N. Peters

Blue Dasher Familiar Bluet on horsetail

FROM TOP Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) and Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile) on horsetail (Equisetum hyemale)

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis)

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) head, frontal view


  • Close-set Eyes  The compound eyes of dragonflies (which
    can contain up to 30,000 “ommatidia,” or visual units, each) are so close set they almost appear to touch — in fact, they sometimes do!
  • Open Wings  Dragonflies leave their big, net-like wings open when resting. It’s a telltale sign of a dragon in your midst.
  • Bigger  Larger in girth and longer overall (with average lengths up to 4 inches), dragonflies are typically stronger, more confident fliers than damselflies. Brawn and beauty!
Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile)

Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile) head, frontal view


  • Wide-set Eyes  Damselfly eyes — also compound and crazy-cool — are so wide set they’re positioned more like human ears, giving damselfly heads the shape of tiny barbells.
  • Closed Wings  Damsels rest with their wings folded (the exception to the rule are those in the family Lestidae, commonly — and fittingly — known as spreadwings).
  • Daintier  Damsels in flight tend to look delicate and fluttery, hence the nickname “bog dancers.” They are usually smaller than dragonflies with slimmer abdomens and typical lengths ranging from 3/4 to 1 3/4 inches.