Damselfly and dragonfly, oh my! / by William Cook

Summer is the time we greet a most welcome visitor to Momiji-en – dragonflies. These brightly colored, miniature helicopters are a delight to watch as they perch, feed, and mate in their annual residency at Momiji-en.

The larger "copter" variety

What we’ve learned over time is we host several dragonfly varieties as well as their smaller cousins, damselflies. Wing behavior at rest distinguishes damselflies from dragonflies. The damselfly folds its wings when perched, whereas the dragonfly maintains its four wings constantly extended.

Both varieties co-exist

These winged guests range from the largest which are black and yellow or have wings with painted “eyes” on them, through medium-sized “Chinese red” ones (the most prolific!), to smaller bright blue damselflies.

Water is their nursery

Their lifecycles are full of activity and drama. Once the eggs are deposited in the water of the lake or pond (this is done mid-flight with a “dab” of their tails to the water surface), they will mature into aquatic larvae that eventually emerge from the water in August. Here they perch on a warm stone, where the sun dries and cracks open their exoskeleton and they emerge, unwind their long body and unfold their gossamer wings, transforming them into the flying creatures we so enjoy.

Perching saves energy and uses a watchful eye

One predictable characteristic behavior is they love to perch on rod-like verticals near or in the water. These are often plant twigs but can also be any post or other thin rod.

Damselfly electric blue

Of course we love these insect guests for their beauty and animation but also we enjoy knowing they are constantly searching for and dining on insects like mosquitoes and gnats. We so appreciate Nature’s pest control as delivered by resident dragonflies and damselflies because we enjoy outdoor evenings on the veranda and in the tea house.

Ruby gems of the garden

A delightful and informative book, Dragonflies and Damselflies of Oregon: A Field Guide, is available from the Oregon State University Press. It was made possible by a gift from former University president John Byrne and his wife Shirley.