Friday, 20 January 2012 By: Jenny Vu

#5 The Damsel-fly in Distress

Okay so, they're not really in distress, I just like using puns but, the damselfly does seem to live a life full of distress as it doesn't live for very long as an adult. Imagine only having two years of your life growing from a baby till you reach sexual maturity (probably 12yrs for humans) and the moment you step out into the world as an adult, you have to quickly find a mate in the next few days or you wont have any children. Well! That's the dilemma of the damselfly.

Source: Nick Upton's Royalty Free Photos

Damselflies spend about two years as underwater larva, which feed and grow to become an adult who only survives for a few days. Sometimes, the conditions might not even be good enough for you to mate. So you only really get one chance.

In order to attract a mate, each male will try to set up their own territory. The perfect territory would consists of a plant surrounded by underwater weeds. The male damselfly then stands on the plant, hoping to impress passing females with the quality of underwater weeds which are vital for her to lay her eggs. However, since there isn't many territories up for grabs, they attract other males. The defender takes off, flashing his colourful wings (and they come in a range of different colours) at the intruder like flags to warn him off. If the intruder doesn't leave, they will wrestle in mid air, trying to push the other into the water and drowning is common.

However, when a female approaches, the defending male will fly around her, beating his wings up to 50 times a second, which is three times faster than usual. This is a display of his strength, which allows the female to determine whether he is a worthy mate. If she deems him worthy, she flutters her wings and they fly off into dense vegetation to mate.

Watch this video. It shows how the male damselfly attracts the female and then the method of mating.

When they mate, they form a heart shape (as seen below) as the male holds the back of the females head with claspers on his abdomen and the female bends the tip of her abdomen to pick up the sperm packet on the base of his body. However, before she is able to pick up the sperm, the male scrapes at her abdomen in order to remove any old sperm from previous matings. They may also be intruded by marauding males, who attack the male, ripping bits of his wings or legs off, in order to get him away from the female.

Source: Nick Upton's Royalty Free Photos
If they have survived all these dangers (including frogs that may be lurking under the water), the female will lay her eggs, submerging her entire body into the water, turning silver from the air trapped around her body, she cuts into plant stems to deposit her eggs. The male will stand nearby guarding her. When she is done, she lets go and floats back to the surface. Sometimes the females' wings get stuck in the surface water tension which stop her from taking off. Whether or not she survives, she has been able to leave offspring for the next generation of short-lived damselflies.

And if you have made it to this point of the blog, CONGRATULATIONS! And sorry for the amount of writing but, I still found these damselflies quite interesting so I had to share. :)

All the information on this blog is from the book "Life: Extraordinary animals, extreme behaviour" which accompanies the BBC Life series. This book pretty much inspired me to start this blog and to share the amazing feats and behaviours of animals and plants alike. Nature truly amazes me and is my passion.

And to finish off, I will add a video with photos of cute baby animals. Enjoy!


Anonymous said...

Oh very interesting! Although I had to down my food for 5 mins when you talked about mating :S

Adam Baus said...

Interesting read. Damselfies are awesome, Odonata (the order dragonflies and damselflies belong to) would have to be some of the prettiest animals. Demoiselles which is the common name for the family of your first photo only have one species in Australia. Coenagrionidae which I pretty sure is the name of the family the second photo belongs too are pretty common, we have heaps in our dam. I can't wait to I get my SLR and a few good lenses.

Jenny Vu said...

Thankyou :) Yes dragonflies and damselflies can be such beautiful animals. I recently saw a photo of a Coral-tailed Cloud Wing- dragonfly, you should look it up if you haven't heard of it. It has amazing colours and it's wings are coloured in a way I've never seen before on any other dragonfly. I have seen some Coenagrionidae damselflies around the lake near my house too.

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