I spent an hour yesterday afternoon chasing damsels around the woodpile.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking…what will it be next? Maidens in the mulch bin? Ingénues among the box elders? Has someone been sprinkling Viagra in his oatmeal?
Nope. We’re talking bugs—insects in the Order Odonata; like dragonflies, only skinnier. You can tell the difference because the damselfly’s quad wings at rest are held alongside or above, parallel to the body, rather than the way the bulkier, larger dragonfies do it—stuck out like wings on an airplane. And speaking of bodies, they come in every hue of the rainbow—red and green and blue and orange, even purple; some are iridescent, and seem to glow like neon. A king’s ransom in jewels, flying so fast the eye can scarcely follow.
The names of these beautiful damselflies are as lovely as the insects themselves—Azure Bluet, Ebony Jewelwing, American Rubyspot, Blue-fronted Dancer, Emerald Spreadwing, Sedge Sprite, Citrine Forktail. Exquisite winged creatures masquerading as living poems.
At rest a damselfly appears fragile, harmless, as if it might exist only for its beauty. Yet damselflies, like their dragonfly cousins, are aerial predators, darting carnivores whose prey consists of small insects such as mosquitoes and midges. They are superb and deadly hunters. In fact, the damselfly’s Order name, Odonata, means “toothed ones.” Of course we gigantic humans have no worries, as a dragonfly is incapable of chewing on anything larger than the tiniest flies. And contrary to what the entomologically challenged might proclaim, damselflies absolutely cannot sting.
Damselflies begin life underwater, when a female lays her eggs in a stream or pond, bog, fen, marsh, even a roadside ditch that holds water year around. The eggs hatch into nymphs which undergo incomplete metamorphosis (that simply means they go through three stages—egg, nymph, adult, skipping the pupa stage) molting several times as they grow and develop. They might spend several years underwater before emerging as the eye-catching adult you see flying around.
There are at least a half dozen species of damselflies frequenting the area around my woodpile—though the stack is located more than a hundred feet from the river. I’ve recently become enamored with making their portraits, though my camera technique still needs serious improvement. So far, I’ve only managed to produce reasonably good shots of a couple of species.
Also, my identification capabilities are shaky at best, not to be trusted, open to correction. When I can scrape up a few extra bucks, I intend to order a copy of The Dragonflies and Damselflies of Ohio, by Glotzhober and McShaffrey, which appears to be the best work on the subject.
Still, you don’t have to know the names to appreciate their beauty. Their graceful form and stunning colors are a beguiling delight to the eye.