Dragonfly vs Damselfly: 6 Key Differences Explained

Written by Hannah Ward
Updated: June 6, 2023
© A-Z-Animals.com
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Key points

  • The dragonfly and damselfly are very similar insects, but they have a few key differences that make each unique.
  • These two have noticeably differently shaped wings, and they both hold their wings differently once they are at rest.
  • Dragonflies live longer than 24 hours, despite misconceptions. They actually can live from one and eight weeks as adults, while damselflies generally live for a couple of weeks.

Dragonflies vs damselflies, what’s the difference? The two are easily confused as they’re both large, flying insects.  They are quite similar – both being of the order Odonata – and many species of each exist, although dragonflies are more common than damselflies.  Both are characterized by their bright and vibrant colors, and both are found near bodies of water.  However, despite their similarities, they do have some key differences.

So, just how alike are they really?  Well, they have different shaped wings and they hold them differently when at rest.  Not only that, but they have different eyes and different body sizes.  Join us and we discover all of the differences between the damselfly vs the dragonfly.

Comparing Damselfly vs Dragonfly

Dragonflies and damselflies are both flying insects that are found near freshwater ponds, streams, lakes, and rivers.  At first glance, there is very little difference between them, but when we look closer – particularly when they are at rest – it becomes fairly obvious that they are not the same animal.  In fact, there are some differences between them which make it much easier to tell them apart.

Check out the chart below to learn a few of the main differences in the damselfly vs dragonfly.

DamselflyDragonfly
SizeTypically between 1.5 and 2 inches longUsually more than 2 inches long
Wing ShapeBoth fore and hind wings are the same size and shape but are tapered where they meet the bodyHind wings are much broader than their fore wings and aren’t as tapered as damselflies
Wings at RestWings are closed and rest against their bodies when restingWings are held open when they are resting
EyesSlightly smaller eyes than dragonflies and have a gap between themLarge eyes which are close together
Body TypeLong, thin body like a twigChunky body
FlightSlower and not as strong as dragonfliesStrong, fast, and agile

The 6 Key Differences Between Dragonflies and Damselflies

Emperor Dragonfly on a pond, UK

©Helen Cradduck/Shutterstock.com

Dragonfly vs Damselfly: Size

Damselflies are generally smaller than dragonflies and are typically between 1.5 and 2 inches long.  Dragonflies are generally more than 2 inches long, with the largest dragonfly being the giant darner with a length of 5 inches and a wingspan the same.

Dragonfly vs Damselfly: Body Type

As well as being smaller in length, damselflies also have a smaller and more petite body type.  Damselflies have long, thin bodies which are more like very small twigs.  On the other hand, dragonflies have much chunkier and more robust bodies.

Dragonfly vs Damselfly: Wing Shape

One of the most noticeable differences between the damselfly vs dragonfly is the shape of the wings. Both the fore and hind wings on damselflies are the same size and are long and slender like their bodies and they taper at the base where they join their bodies.  However, dragonflies have much broader wings than damselflies and their wings broaden at the base where they join their bodies.

Dragonfly vs Damselfly: Wings at Rest

Another major difference between dragonflies and damselflies is the position of their wings when they are at rest.  When they are resting, damselflies hold their wings closed.  They fold them back and hold them against their bodies which gives them a sleek and streamlined appearance even when they are resting.  However, dragonflies do the opposite.  When they are resting they hold their wings open so their wings are sticking out from the side of their body.

Dragonfly vs Damselfly: Eyes

If you are lucky enough to get a really close look at a dragonfly or a damselfly then you will be able to see the difference between their eyes.  Dragonflies have large eyes which take up most of their head and wrap around the side of their face.  There is also little to no gap between their eyes.  Damselflies have much smaller eyes than dragonflies and there is always a gap between their eyes.

Damselfly
Damselflies hold their wings closed when at rest

©iStock.com/dmf87

Dragonfly vs Damselfly: Flight

There is also a difference in the flying ability of dragonflies and damselflies.  Dragonflies – despite being bigger and having stockier bodies – are quick and agile in the air and are both strong and graceful when flying.  Damselflies are much slower and are not as strong when flying as dragonflies.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are dragonflies and damselflies closely related?

Yes, dragonflies and damselflies are both from the same order Odonata, however, dragonflies are from the suborder Epiprocta, and damselflies are from Zygoptera.  Zygoptera is derived from the Ancient Greek word for “equal wing”.

Do damselflies and dragonflies live in the same places?

Yes – both dragonflies and damselflies are found near freshwater ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers on every continent except Antarctica.  Both lay their eggs either in or near bodies of water and the eggs hatch into aquatic nymphs.  Depending on the individual species, they remain as nymphs for anything between several weeks and several years.

Do dragonflies and damselflies eat the same things?

Yes, both eat virtually any flying insect that they can catch.  They eat a range of butterflies, wasps, moths, bees, and flies.  Dragonflies also sometimes eat other dragonflies.  Even dragonfly and damselfly nymphs eat the same things – both feed on invertebrates, tadpoles, and small fish.

How long do dragonflies and damselflies live?

Regarding the longevity of the damselfly vs dragonfly, there is a common misconception that dragonflies only live for twenty-four hours. In actuality, they live for between one and eight weeks as adults, while damselflies generally live for a couple of weeks.

Are there any differences between dragonfly and damselfly nymphs?

Yes, many dragonfly nymphs are much stockier and have more rounded bodies than damselfly nymphs.  Damselfly nymphs are much longer and have slimmer bodies, much like their adult counterparts.  Damselfly nymphs also have gills on their abdomens, while dragonfly nymphs have rectal gills.

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About the Author

I have been writing professionally for several years with a focus on animals and wildlife. I love spending time in the outdoors and when not writing I can be found on the farm surrounded by horses, dogs, sheep, and pigs.

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