Insect Details

Dragonflies and Damselflies Basic Identification

Dragonflies are amazing insects with fascinating behaviour and majestic powers of flight. The species around today are closely related to the huge insects that flew over the forests 300 million years ago. One of these giants, staggeringly, had a wingspan of 70cm. Modern dragonflies are tiny by comparison, but still large and spectacular enough to capture the attention of anyone walking along a river bank or just enjoying a sunny afternoon by the garden pond.

Dragonflies and Damselflies belong to the insect order know as Odonata which means "toothed jaws". They are often referred to collectively as Dragonflies, but the Dragonflies and Damselflies are actually two different and distinct groups. Below are some characteristics of each species that can help you identify them.


by Paul Beckett


Common Blue Damselfly

by Paul Beckett

Dragonflies are usually larger stronger flying insects that can often be found well away from water.

When resting, they hold their wings open, keeping them out like aeroplane wings.

The hindwings are usually shorter and broader than the forewings.

They have very large eyes which occupy most of the head and are very close to each other, often touching.


Damselflies are smaller delicate looking insects with a week flight. They often stay closer to the margins of water, or the water surface.

When resting, most species hold their wings closed, alongside the abdomen.

All four wings are roughly the same size and shape.

The eyes are always separated, being positioned on either side of the head.

Information on this page has been taken, with kind permission, from a leaflet entitled 'Dragonflies and Damselflies in your garden', published by Natural England. You can download the latest version here.

Dragonflies and Damselflies

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