Wild Thing: Winged Jewels
Beautiful, colorful damselflies have superior vision.
By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers
When you're out splashing in a Texas river or creek this summer, hold your arms still above the water and see who shows up. More than likely, you'll attract a few damselflies, those winged jewels of turquoise blue, orange red, metallic green and other colors that seem to dart everywhere.
"Damselflies will perch on just about anything, even you," says John Abbott, an entomologist and author of Damselflies of Texas: A Field Guide. "Don't worry — they're harmless!"
Though lacking shyness, damselflies rank first in another area. "In the insect world, damselflies have the best vision," Abbott says. "That's because they have a pair of compound eyes that each has more than 10,000 lenses."
Damselflies are in the same order as dragonflies, but damselflies are generally smaller and more slender-bodied. At rest, dragonflies hold their wings open, while damselflies keep theirs closed.
In Texas, Abbott has identified 79 damselfly species with the help of professionals and enthusiasts reporting records through his website (www.odonatacentral.net). Many have blue bodies, but not the American rubyspot (Hetaerina americana), a widespread species. It has a green-brown abdomen, and, as its name implies, it has a deep red spot marking the base of its four wings.
"They're usually seen along stream sides, where males and females perch on vegetation," Abbott says. "Males often chase one another in spirals, competing for perches and mates."
Adult damselflies feed on small flying insects, such as flies, leafhoppers and beetles. After mating, the female rubyspot deposits her eggs within plant stems or leaves at or just below the water line. Nymphs hatch out in the water and feed on aquatic insects. After molting a dozen times, mature damselflies climb out of the water and — like a cicada — slowly emerge from their nymphal shells. Most adults live about a month and may mate several times.