Dragons (fire breathing monsters) and damsels (young ladies, usually in distress, locked in castles) are the stuff of story books. But they give their name to this fascinating group of insects – and fact can be as strange as fiction. Fierce aerial predators, they spend their lives in two worlds; in their larval form they live in freshwater but as adults they are the insect “lords of the skies.”
Follow the link below to check them out: Who’s who.
Eggs laid in the water develop into larvae; delicate and slim with three long extensions at the back end (gills) = damselfly (left, above) or robust and squat without the feathery looking “tail” = dragonfly (right, above).
As their larval forms they can spend years underwater feeding up on other invertebrates, tadpoles and even small fish. Finally when the time is right these strange looking creatures crawl out of the water up a reed or similar aquatic plant and their skin splits open. Leaving their past life behind adults emerge and after a brief time resting, drying and extending their wings they leave their watery habitat for good.
Adult dragonflies emerging – from the larval stage, this is a dangerous time as they are very vulnerable to predators before their wings extend and they can fly.
For an in depth description of the dragonflies’ life cycle and lots more information check out:
A. Background information on Lebanon’s dragonflies.
Adult damselflies are delicate and fragile looking insects, ranging from 2 to 4.5 cm in length. They have rectangular heads with spherical eyes on each side. The two pairs of wings are the same shape and in most species are kept folded over the insect’s body when it is resting. Unlike that of their larger relatives the dragonflies, damselfly flight often seems weak and fluttering, and they are likely to stay in or near thick vegetation by the water’s edge. Dragonflies can be identified by their relatively larger and stronger looking bodies (4 to 8 cm in length) and rounded heads almost completely covered by the large pair of eyes. The front and back pairs of wings are slightly different in shape, and they are held wide open while the insect is at rest. Dragonflies are powerful and fast fliers, and they are more likely to be found further from water than damselflies are.
Both dragonflies like this red Crocothemis erythraea (left, top) and damselflies e.g. this blue and black Ischnura elegans (left, bottom) can be brightly colored. Individual species can be told apart by a combination of size, color and markings. Many of the commoner Lebanese species are illustrated on the pages Dragonfly who’s who.
Where to look for dragonflies:
Wetlands are the best places – so Aammiq, Kafr Zabad and Yamouneh are worth visiting but dragonflies can be found quite far from water and breed in small mountain pools and springs so can be found almost any where.