Dragonflies and damselflies flutter in and around Eugene. Oregon dragonfly and damselfly expert, Cary Kerst, speaks about local species, how to identify them, and where to find them. Follow along as Kerst shares a host of fascinating damselfly and dragonfly facts.
Three Differences between Dragonflies and Damselflies
There are a few key differences between dragonflies and damselflies. First are the differences in their eyes. Dragonflies have their eyes much closer together, while damselflies’ eyes are widely separated. From the front, damselflies resemble a hammerhead shark. Second is the difference in their bodies. Dragonflies have a much thicker abdomen than damselflies, which helps them fly faster than damselflies, who usually flit along in the grass. The third difference is how they hold their wings when they perch. When dragonflies perch, they hold their wings out from their bodies, while damselflies hold their wings back over their bodies.
The Dragonfly and Damselfly Life Cycle
The full life cycle of dragonflies and damselflies can range around 5-6 months. During their lives, they spend the majority of their time as larvae, living entirely in water. When they emerge into adult dragonflies, they quickly transform to fly and breathe oxygen from the air.
The Egg and Larva Stages
Damselflies and dragonflies start as tiny eggs, around half a millimeter in width. A couple of weeks after they are laid, they hatch into larvae of various shapes and sizes and live in the water. Dragonflies and damselflies spend the majority of their lives in the water and use their gills for breathing.
Of all the damselfly dragonfly facts, how they mature into adults is one of the more astounding facts. When the larva becomes mature, it crawls out onto plant stems or a rock and splits its larva skin down its back. Then, it uses its blood pressure to blow its abdomen and wings up. The larva quickly goes from breathing oxygen in the water through its gills to breathing oxygen out of the air. Once its wings are out, it quickly flies to nearby trees to protect itself from birds and let its body harden up.
Laying Their Eggs
When the female is ready to lay eggs, the male may guard the female to prevent other males from mating with her. Often, the female lays her eggs through dipping the end of her abdomen in water.
Sometimes you’ll find a group of dragonflies laying eggs in one spot. Kerst has seen a group lay eggs in a dried-up wetland area near Drain, Oregon. In this instance, females were dropping their eggs into the grass. When dropped into a dry area like this, the eggs will lay there for 5-6 months and will finally hatch when they are covered with water from fall rains.
What do They Eat?
Dragonflies and damselflies are predators who eat insects throughout their larva and adult stages. In fact, people used to call them mosquito hawks. Since they eat other insects, they are good to have in the garden.
The World Through Their Eyes
One of the more fascinating damselfly and dragonfly facts is about their eyesight. Dragonflies and damselflies have compound eyes that wrap around their heads. On each side of their head, they have 25,000 individual eyes. They also have three eyes on the top of their heads.
Compared to humans, who see the world through mainly three colors (red, blue, and green), dragonflies and damselflies see many more colors. Some species see more than 30 different colors in the ultraviolet spectrum.
Dragonflies and Damselflies in the Eugene Area
Local species of dragonflies and damselflies abound in and around Eugene. This large number of species is partly due to the Willamette and McKenzie rivers that drain down into the Eugene area. The Eugene area then serves as a conduit for species to move up and down the river.
Dragonflies and Damselflies Around Town
You can find nearly 50 species of dragonflies and damselflies in the ponds and streams in and around Eugene. Some species to look for include:
- Western Red Damsel. The males of this species are brightly colored, only about an inch long, and can be found below the bridge on 18th Street at Willow Creek.
- Vivid Dancer. This species is found all over different bodies of water. They are blue with black arrowheads along the side of the front parts of their abdomen.
- Bluets. Look for these blue-bodied damselflies at ponds around town.
- Pacific Forktail. Look for this species at Delta Ponds and find them on warm days from January to March.
- Blue Dasher. Look for this species at ponds around town, perched on sticks and twigs over the water’s edge. They have a darker thorax, green eyes, white face, and the female has a broken yellow line along their abdomen.
- Variegated Meadowhawk. There are half a dozen meadowhawk species throughout town. They are small and have a reddish color. Look for their white spots surrounded by black on their abdomen and a couple of little yellow dots down low on their thorax.
- Cardinal Meadowhawk. Spot this bright red species with bright yellow spots on its sides and red veins along the front of its wings. It emerges in the spring and fall.
- Dot-tailed Whiteface. Spot this species along boggy areas around ponds and lakes, like the fringes of Fern Lake. They like to perch on leaves floating in the water and have a white face and a single dot on their abdomen.
Dragonfly and Damselfly Species at Mount Pisgah
Look for the following damselfly and dragonfly species near the water that flows through Mt. Pisgah.
- American Rubyspot. This is one of the prettiest damselflies in North America. They have a red color on the base of their wings and display a flashing red color when they fly.
- River Jewelwing. The “River Jewel” has a metallic green body. Since it’s refracted light, it might look blue when the sun shines on it from a different angle.
- Emerald Spreadwing. This damselfly shares many similarities with other species and sits with its wings a little bit apart.
- Emmas Dancer. The females of this species are a lavender color, while the males are more brown. Find them perched up along the trails by the river.
- Western River Cruiser. This species of dragonfly virtually never perches. They are big and have black and yellow colorations. Look for them flying near shore up and down the river.
- Pacific Clubtail. This blue-eyed species likes to perch on dirt or rocks and has an expanded tip on the end of their abdomen.
Damselfly and Dragonfly Facts to See a More Colorful World
Check in with Mt. Pisgah and the McKenzie River Trust for classes and walks on identifying dragonflies and damselflies. You’re guaranteed to learn a whole new set of damselfly and dragonfly facts. Or pick up Kerst’s Oregon Dragonfly and Damselfly Field Guide and head up to the nearby mountains!