Slender Spreadwing Damselfly - Lestes rectangularis
Order Odonata / Suborder Zygoptera

Insects | Odonata Index | Dragonflies | Damselflies | Bugs Index | Spiders
Live adult damselflies photographed at DuPage County, Illinois, USA
While most damselflies rest with their wings folded together, most members of the family Lestidae hold them at an angle away from their bodies. The pterostigma (a single dark spot in the meshwork of the leading edge near the tip of each wing) is noticeably elongated. The quadrilateral (a part of the wing venation, close to the body) has an acute angle at the end. The superior anal appendages, commonly called claspers (body parts of male insect for clasping the female during copulation) of male spreadwings are long and strongly curved.

These photos were taken near the west branch of the DuPage River at Winfield IL. The widow skimmer is famous for its pruinosity - the white, waxy coating on the dragonfly's wings and abdomen. Dragonflies have excellent eyesight. Their compound eyes have up to 30,000 facets, each of which is a separate light-sensing organ or ommatidium, arranged to give nearly a 360° field of vision.

Odonates are completely harmless - they do not sting or bite. Indeed, they are beneficial in the same respect spiders and other predators are beneficial - they keep the burgeoning insect population in check. Many of these species prey on each other; I often see dragonflies with damsels in their clutches. Dragonflies are among the most ancient of living creatures. Fossil records, clearly recognizable as the ancestors of our present day odonates, go back to Carboniferous times which means that the insects were flying more than 300 million years ago, predating dinosaurs by over 100 million years and birds by some 150 million.

Much larger dragonfly species existed in the distant past. The largest, found as a fossil, is an extinct Protodonata named Meganeura monyi from the Permian period, with a wingspan of 70-75 cm (27.5-29.5 in). This compares to 19 cm (7.5 in) for the largest modern species of odonates, the Hawaiian endemic dragonfly, Anax strenuus. The smallest modern species recorded is the libellulid dragonfly, Nannophya pygmaea from east Asia with a wingspan of only 20 mm, or about ¾ of an inch.

Dragonflies are the world's fastest insects and, although estimates of their speed vary wildly, most credible authorities say they are capable of reaching speeds of between 19 - 38 mph. One study found dragonflies can travel 85 miles in one day.

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Order Odonata: dragonflies and damselflies date back 300 million years, to the Carboniferous Period of the Paleozoic Era. These colorful, enchanting insects are revered second only to the butterflies in the popular psyche. Explore detailed close-up photographs of live, adult dragonflies and damselflies photographed in the wild.
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