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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 26, 2001

Hawai'i Nature Squad
How to identify a damselfly

A damselfly rests with its wings folded up, unlike the dragonfly it is often mistaken for.

William Mull

Another chapter in the continuing adventures of the Hawai'i Nature Squad as it investigates mysteries and wonders in the environment

Crinkle, crack, crinkle ...

Detective Andy Anole scanned the water's edge with his binoculars, unable to locate the source of the sound. The lizard detective had come to the Honouliuli wetland in hopes of finding out the differences between dragonflies and damselflies, his latest case. "Of all times for my dragonfly partner, Penny Pinao, to be vacationing on Kaua'i," Andy thought to himself.

Crinkle, crinkle ...

Andy finally found the source of the sound. It was coming from a small brown insect that was grasping the stem of a makai sedge. He gazed in awe as the back of the bug began to wiggle and split down the middle. Within minutes, a beautiful yellow and black insect carefully emerged from the opening. Hmmmmm, thought Andy. Beautiful lacey wings, brilliant colors. That looks like a baby dragonfly metamorphisizing from its water-bug stage.

Andy made his way over to the insect and flashed his Hawai'i Nature Squad badge. "Excuse me," he said. "I know you're just a baby dragonfly ..."

"I'm not a baby and I'm not a dragonfly," interrupted the winged insect. "I'm an adult damselfly fully equipped to fly!" The radiant insect practiced beating his wings to emphasize his point.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to insult you. My partner, Penny Pinao, is a dragonfly, and you look like her. I just assumed you were a smaller version."

"That's alright. Lots of people get us confused with dragonflies. We look a lot alike. And damselflies usually are smaller than most dragonflies.

"Listen, I'll give you a tip," the damselfly continued, his voice dropping to a whisper. "The best way to identify us is to observe us when we're resting on a plant like I'm doing now. When damselflies are resting, we fold our wings back behind us, like this." The helpful insect gently folded his wings together so that they almost seemed to disappear.

"And dragonflies hold their wings out flat, on either side like an airplane. Now, any more questions? I'm really dying to try these wings out."

"Just one more," answered Detective Anole. "It seems both damselflies and dragonflies spend the first part of their life cycle as water bugs. Are their any differences in your appearance beneath the water?"

"Sure," said the damselfly. "Both dragonflies and damselflies breathe through gills during our underwater phase. Dragonflies' gills are concealed, but we damselflies have beautiful feather-like gills that protrude from the tip of our abdomen."

"Wow! You've been a great help in solving my latest case. Is there any thing I can do for you?" asked Andy.

"Just stand back a few inches and enjoy the show," said the damselfly excitedly. "Here I gooooooooooooooo!" The damselfly took off, dipping and diving and speeding through the air on his brand new, powerful wings.

"Hawai'i Nature Squad" is written by Kim Welch, Kelly Perry and Ati Jeffers-Fabro of Hawai'i Nature Center. It alternates in this spot with "Dr. Gadget's Science Machine."