Odonates (the collective term for dragonflies and damselflies) represent some of the most recognizable insects found in nature. Biologically, the dragonflies (Anisoptera) and damselflies (Zygoptera) represent the two suborders that make up the order "odonata': meaning "toothed ones" in Latin.
Both groups have similar life cycles and behaviors and differ mainly in their appearance (morphology). Dragonflies are generally larger and hold their wings outstretched when perched. Damselflies have smaller thoraxes ("bodies") and slender abdomens "tails" compared to dragonflies. Damselflies also fold their wings together behind them when at rest.
Their large size and distinctive shapes and coloration make odonates hard to miss as they fly about near many bodies of water hunting and/or defending territories. However, it takes careful observation over weeks or months to observe their complete life cycle.
The odonate life cycle begins with eggs deposited in water; lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, bogs and woodland seeps all support populations of different species of odonates. Eggs develop into nymphs which typically spend about a year (sometimes more) living and developing as aquatic insects before being ready to emerge as adults. Rising water temperatures in the spring and early summer serve as the trigger for emergence (eclosure). Once the water reaches the proper temperature for a particular species, the nymphs climb from the water onto nearby vegetation or rocks and the adult emerges from the final naiad skin. Teneral (newly emerged) adults spend a brief period (hours) during which their wings dry out and their exoskeleton hardens before taking flight as the commonly seen insects.
The details (the length of their adult life, the environments they prefer, etc.) of the lives of adult odonates are quite varied. But basically, like all other living creatures, they must eat, reproduce and eventually die.
Since they live in and near sensitive aquatic environments, healthy (in terms of numbers and variety of species) populations of dragonflies and damselflies are an indication of healthy environments. Degradation of the environment in terms of quality or extent is often seen as a decline in the odonate population. Such a decline can often directly affect humans. For example, odonates eat large numbers of mosquitoes, black flies and other flying insects each day.
The activities shown in these photos are not rare events. With limited equipment (a pair of binoculars is often useful) and careful observation along the shore of any body of fresh water, anyone can find dragonflies and damselflies "doing their thing": Indeed, ode watching, like bird watching, is a great way to get outdoors and experience the natural world.