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Order: Odonata (damselflies and dragonflies)

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Ecdysozoa > Panarthropoda > Tritocerebra > Phylum: Arthopoda > Mandibulata > Atelocerata > Panhexapoda > Hexapoda > Insecta (insects) > Dicondyla > Pterygota > Metapterygota > Holodonata

The damselfly Platycypha caligata (family: Chlorocyphidae).

Pair of damselflies mating (male holding female round neck, female taking sperm from organ on underside of abdomen (photo. N. Larsen).

One of a number of blue dragonfly species in the genus Orthetrum sp. (family: Libellulidae)

Adult dragonfly recently emerged from the nymphal skin leaving the empty skin (or exuvium) behind.

 

 

Exuvium (cast skin) of a dragonfly nymph that had crawled out of the water and attached itself to the side of a rock.

 

There are two suborders of Odonata, the Zygoptera (damselflies) and the Anisoptera (dragonflies). Damselflies fold their wings over the body when at rest, have forewings and hindwings that are equal in size to one another and have aquatic predatory nymphs that breath through external gills sticking out of the end of the abdomen. Dragonflies, on the other hand, keep their wings out at an angle of 90 degrees to the body when at rest, have hindwings that are larger and differently shaped to the forewings, and have aquatic predatory nymphs that breath through a network of tracheae lining the rectum.

The peculiar mating behaviour of dragonflies and damelflies is described in Skaife (1979). The male transfers sperm to an organ at the base of his second abdominal segment. While in flight he uses pincer-like claspers at the end of the abdomen to grab the female at the neck. They fly in tandem with the male in front and then the female bends her abdomen forward and takes up the sperm from the males special organ on the second abdominal segment.

In species of Orthetrum dragonflies, the female after mating, lays eggs in flight by dipping the tip of her abdomen repeatedly into the water, each time washing her oval white eggs off the tip. The eggs rest in the mud at the bottom and ultimately hatch into predatory bottom-dwelling nymphs. These nymphs breath through a network of tracheae in the rectum and they have special musculature for circulating water through the rectum which can also help in propulsion if the water is squirted out quickly.

At the end of its development, the nymph crawls out of the water, with its claws fastens itself to an object such as the stem of a plant and then the skin splits along the dorsal surface and the adult slowly emerges.

Further Reading

  • Skaife, S.H. 1979. African Insect Life. Struik, Cape Town, pp. 35-41.

  • Tarboton, W. & Tarboton, M. 2002. A Field Guide to the Dragonflies of South Africa. Privately published by the authors (e-mail wtarbotn@iafrica.com; Postal address: Box 327, Modimolle 0510, South Africa). [Highly recommended]

  • Tarboton, W. & Tarboton, M. 2005. A Field Guide to the Damselflies of South Africa. Privately published by the authors (e-mail wtarbotn@iafrica.com; Postal address: Box 327, Modimolle 0510, South Africa). [Highly recommended]

 


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