Dragonflies and Damselflies


Have you been seeing lots of dragonflies and damselflies this summer?  Occasionally people get the two confused.  They are closely related, belonging to the same Order of insects.  Both have two pair of wings, but the hind wings on dragonflies are larger than the front pair, while they are similar in size in damsel flies.  But they are perhaps easier to tell apart when they are resting.  Unlike damselflies, dragonflies cannot fold up their wings.  So if one of these insects is observed resting with outstretched wings, it is a dragonfly.  It has been my observation that dragonflies are generally larger, but that may not always be accurate.

It was interesting to watch the dragonflies in flight. Their front and back wings function independently, which gives them considerable maneuverability.  Their flight is often compared to that of a helicopter because they can fly backwards and forwards, go up and down, or just hover.  With around thirty wing beats per second, these interesting insects can fly over thirty five miles per hour.

I did a little computer search on North Dakota dragonflies.  I was surprised to see that Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center has a manuscript online about the dragonflies and damselflies of North Dakota.   Over two dozen species of dragonflies are listed, along with a photograph of most species as well as a North Dakota county map showing the species distribution.

I was kind of surprised to find that four species of dragonflies have been documented in Bottineau County; however, a few more species were documented for Rolette County.  That difference (and others) may be more of a function of the amount of collecting than presence or absence.  It might surprise you, but there still is a real need to collect insects, as well as many other organisms, to accurately document their distributions in the state and elsewhere.

So keep on the lookout for these interesting insects.  And take the time to observe them closely if you get the opportunity, they really are fun and interesting to watch.

Click here to view the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center’s manuscript on dragonflies and damselflies of North Dakota.

Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.



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