The Mating of Damselflies

     Yesterday my husband Andy and I had the pleasure of canoeing on the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.  While the river is, unfortunately, not in good health, it was nonetheless a pleasure to ply the still waters between the river’s forested banks. 

     So much wildlife!  We delighted to see turtles sunning themselves on logs.  And it was a thrill to stare, as a green heron, semi-hidden in riparian foliage, puffed out its feathers and became for a few moments a much larger bird.  And we saw what I think was a mink, scampering along the ground, high above the water.

     And all around us, flying hither and thither above the water, were damselflies.  I have long admired these dainty, gauzy-winged, romantically-named dragonfly species, with their touches of brilliant blue.  

     And it was obviously mating season for these insects;  most were not flying solo!  While I have often seen insects joined together, or mated, in flight, what amazed us yesterday was the way these creatures looked at rest.  Just about every floating leaf we paddled past seemed to be a resting spot for damselfly duos.  As many as three or four of the insect pairs might be resting on a single leaf .  And what a sight they made–gauzy jumbles flecked with azure.  Had we not observed individual pairs, we could not have guessed what comprised these translucent masses.

     Even more amazing to behold were those ‘couples’ who were not sharing ‘their’ leaf with any other damselfly pairs.  A single mated pair on a leaf held the strangest looking pose.  It seemed as if one of the two rested in a ‘normal’ posture on the leaf, while its mate ’stood’ vertically, with its back end appearing embedded in the other’s thorax, just behind its head.  Sticking up straight in the air, the latter damselfly appeared poised to take off!  (Please see my photo below).

     Of course I was curious to learn more about what we were seeing, so I did a little Internet research on the mating of damselflies.  I learned that the male produces packets of sperm from the tip of his abdomen (hindmost segment of his body).  He then bends his abdomen forward and deposits the sperm packets into a depression in the second segment of his abdomen.  Once he has filled his sperm receptacle, the male uses the claspers at his hindmost tip to grasp a female just behind her head.  Then the two fly joined together for some time.  And each takes its turn flying while the other rests.  After awhile, the female bends her abdomen under and reaches it up to the abdomen of the male.  She grasps the second segment of his abdomen and picks up a sperm packet, or spermatophore, he has deposited there.  The two remain in this joined position for 15 minutes or more, afterwhich she lets go and they resume their joined position with the male still grasping the female just behind her head.  

     The two may continue flying, joined, as the female lays her eggs on submerged plants, or the two may separate, with the male remaining close to the female as she deposits her eggs.  It’s all pretty amazing!–April Moore

  

 

a mated pair of damselflies on a leaf

a mated pair of damselflies on a leaf

4 Responses to “The Mating of Damselflies”

  1. Joan Brundage Says:

    April,
    Thanks for the beautiful description and information about something I’ve observed many times but not understood.

  2. Bruce Says:

    Interesting story and good photo

    Thanks for your time on the phone

  3. Elizabeth Cottrell Says:

    You have, through your gifted writing, whisked me away from my office into the beautiful world outside! You always help me learn new things about the ordinary sights of daily life and it evermore gives me increased pleasure and appreciation when I view them.

  4. Judy Muller Says:

    What an extraordinary, intricate, and captivating dance.

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