Dragonflies (suborder Anisoptera) and Damselflies (suborder Zygoptera) are easily recognised and commonly seen around bodies of fresh water or in open areas such as parks and gardens. These insects belong to an ancient order. Dragonfly fossils have been found that are up to 220,000,000 years old and the basic design has changed little since then, but they have shrunk a little over time - the oldest known fossilised specimens had wingspans of 60cm.
Dragonflies and Damselflies both have long, slender bodies - dragonflies are usually larger than damselflies - and two pairs of heavily veined membranous wings. At rest, dragonflies hold their wings out at right angles to their bodies, while most damselflies close their wings along the top of their bodies. They have large compound eyes and triangular, mobile heads with mandibulate (chewing) mouthparts.
Dragons and Damsels are predators and are very adept at catching their prey on the wing. Their nymphs, which live in fresh water, are also predatory, feeding on other aquatic invertebrates.
The nymphs stay under water where they moult up to 15 times while developing. This can take from a couple of months to a couple of years. Finally, they crawl out of the water and shed their last nymphal skin and emerge as fully fledged adults.
Dragons and damsels can be difficult to photograph due to their skittish nature, and great patience is required at times. I have sat and waited for up to half an hour just to get one picture. It has always been worth the wait.
Click on an image below to see the dragonflies and damselflies of Australia.