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Damselflies (suborder Zygoptera) are one of two lineages in the insect order Odonata, the other being the dragonflies (suborder Anisoptera). While similar to dragonflies, damselflies can be distinguished by the following features:
- At rest, most damselflies (except the spreadwings; family Lestidae) hold their wings above and parallel to their body, whereas dragonflies spread them out at a 90 degree angle from the body.
- Fore- and hind- wings of damselflies are similar in size and shape, whereas dragonfly forewings are smaller and narrower at the base than are the hindwings.
- Damselflies usually have smaller and more delicate bodies than do dragonflies, and are weaker flyers.
- Damselflies have smaller eyes than dragonflies; unlike dragonflies, damselfly eyes rarely touch.
- Larval damselflies have three large gill appendages at the end of their body, whereas dragonfly larvae have internal gills.
Like dragonflies, damselflies are very visual hunters. The adults tend to fly around water sources, and females lay their eggs in water. Damselfly eggs (about 1 mm long) are less round and more elongated than are dragonfly eggs. The fully aquatic larval stage is long-lasting, usually a year or two and in some species up to six years, and consists of 6-15 molts. The nymphs are voracious, carnivorous ambush predators and have large extendible jaws (prehensile labium) for catching prey. Adults also are carnivorous. While generalists, their main food source is often found to be small insects, especially flies. Damelflies tend to be more cold-hearty and pollution-hearty than are dragonflies.
Found worldwide, the damselfly lineage comprises nearly 3000 named species. An extensive recent molecular phylogeny has reinterpreted relationships among and taxonomy of the damelsflies (Dijkstra et al. 2014), which were historically based on wing venation, defining 27 damselfly families, significantly more than the 18 or so previously defined. This study also suggests that the more challenging damselfly families may be split further in future studies.
(Batlet 2004; Dijkstra et al. 2014; Sabet-Peyman and Speer 2000; Wikipedia 2014)