Back to the dragonflies and damselflies… Greg brought live specimens that we could observe up close. We learned that some dragonflies 300 million years ago had wingspans of two feet, considerably larger than their wingspan today of two to five inches. Dragonflies are skillful fliers and have excellent vision—necessary for catching prey while on the wing. If you examine a dragonfly’s head, you’ll notice that they have large compound eyes and tiny, threadlike antennae because they rely on vision, not smell as other insects do—for example, clearwing moths. In fact, if you see a dragonfly drawn with butterfly-like antennae, you’ll know that what you’re seeing is an adult antlion, not a dragonfly.
Compared to dragonflies, damselflies are weak fliers and when at rest, fold their wings like butterflies (see photo of mating damselflies). The immature forms of damselflies and dragonflies, called naiads, develop in water. Naiads eat a variety of aquatic critters—mosquito larvae, small fish, tadpoles, and each other. As adults, they eat flying insects; a single dragonfly can eat hundreds of mosquitoes a day. In California, we have about 100 species of damselflies and dragonflies.
No dragonfly gathering would be complete without some catching and releasing. By the time we reached the river, nets were swinging wildly and we counted several damselflies among the catch. The more elusive dragonflies were another story—even entomologists have a hard time catching them.
If you’d like to learn more about the Odonata (the insect order of dragons and damsels), visit the Bohart Museum at UC Davis. It’s located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge building on Crocker Lane and open Monday–Thursday, 9 a.m. to noon and noon to 5 p.m. (closed on holidays). Admission is free. You can also buy dragonfly-related items in the gift shop, including a gorgeous dragonfly poster by Greg Kareofelas and Fran Keller.
Photo Credits: Kathy Kayner and Robert Sewell.