The Common Blue Damselfly
Walking along a bicycle path on a warm, sunny day, I’m surrounded by the tranquil sights, sounds and smells of nature. A small, dainty wisp of vivid blue flies past me, settling on a leaf. I slow my pace, ready my camera and approach it stealthily. Crouching down, I inch my way forward. Before I can even press the shutter button, off it goes. Of course, it does.
The damselfly and I play this cat-and-mouse game every year. I’m lucky if I manage to photograph one or two of these lovely creatures before the season is over.
The Differences Between Dragonflies and Damselflies
Damselflies are sometimes confused with their more well-known cousin the dragonfly. This is understandable as they both come from the order Odonata. However, there are notable differences that can help you tell them apart.
The adult damselfly holds its wings alongside and parallel to its body when at rest. Their back or hindwing is similar in structure to its forewing.
In contrast, an adult dragonfly holds its wings away and perpendicular to its body while resting. The hindwing is broader near the base and their sizable, multifaceted eyes touch.
A General Description of the Damselfly
The Common Blue Damselfly, enallagma cyathigerum, can be found all over Europe apart from Iceland. It is common in the United Kingdom and is the most typical British damselfly.
Habitat of Choice
Where there is water, you are sure to find the Common Blue Damselfly. They can be found on large lakes, ponds and streams. You can also see them flying about rivers and canal banks so long as there are ample greenery and flora.
They also inhabit shady, wooded areas, darting here and there as they go about their business of finding food and a mate.
Diversity Amongst Sexes
The Common Blue Damselfly measures anywhere from 32 to 35 mm (1.3 to 1.4 in) in length. Their wings are translucent and held to their side when resting. Males have a predominantly blue abdomen with black spots that resemble rings.
Despite the name, the female can be brown but looks more yellowish-orange, blue or green with rings. The green ones are quite rare and if you’re fortunate enough to come across one, try to get a photo.
Males and females can sometimes be found settled on plant stems facing the same direction.
Life-Span and Reproduction Process
Common Blue Damselflies begin to appear from mid to late May till approximately September. The average lifespan for an adult, once it emerges from its nymph stage, is approximately 12 days. During this time, they must find a mate and complete their reproduction cycle to ensure future generations.
When a suitable mate is found, the male will hold the female by the neck. The female then bends towards the male’s reproductive organs, and mating begins. This is known as the mating wheel.
Mating can last for up to 20 minutes. When the pair finish, they fly off in search of an acceptable area for the female to lay her eggs. The female lays her eggs in plant tissues both above and below the water. While she is underwater, the male stands guard till she resurfaces.
Larvae, also known as nymphs, emerge from the eggs and continue to live in the water preying on other aquatic creatures who share its domain. When the time is right, the nymphs will climb a plant stem to a point above the water line. It then waits for its outer shell to dry and split. Once this happens, the damselfly will work itself from its chrysalis, much like a butterfly, by flexing its body backwards. When it is finally free, the mature damselfly begins pumping blood into its wings until they are fully developed. The adult is now ready to begin its 12-day search for food and a mate.
How the Damselflies Catch Prey
Damselflies are carnivorous predators. Utilizing their excellent eyesight to spot a potential meal, they catch their prey by forming their legs into a basket shape and scooping it. Once caught, the damselfly holds its quarry fast until it alights and begins feeding.
Their diet consists of flies, midges and mosquitoes. Some large varieties will also ensnare butterflies, moths and, sometimes, smaller dragonflies and other damselflies.
I often walk the footpaths in my village in search of damselflies. Every so often, they visit my backyard. That's a real treat. They flit about with a capriciousness that invites you to follow. Their beautiful electric blue bodies hold your attention captive. I simply cannot take my eyes off them. They are indeed a joy to behold.
Oh, in case you're wondering, I did finally get that shot. Have a look.
Forestwatch - Damselflies with Sarah Rees
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon