In this page we describe the typical sequence of stages during
mating and reproductions of dragonflies and damselflies. Their reproduction and
associated behaviour is unique among the animal world. The behaviour is complex
but universal within dragonflies and damselflies, although with difference
spices there could be some minor variations.
Some dragonflies and damselflies species show very strong territory behaviour
while some species do not. A territory is defined as a fixed area that an animal
defends against intrusion from other of its own species. In dragonflies
and damselflies the territory will usually be a good egg-laying site.
- Above pictures show the hovering Yellow
Emperor and the perching Bog Skimmer
guarding their territory.
The male dragonflies and damselflies will return to their breeding ground
and stay there when they mature and ready for mating. Most male Skimmer
Dragonflies perch on their favorite spot and overlook their territory. The
will usually fly, non-stop within a fixed path over their territory. When there
is the intruders of the same species male (sometime other species as well), the
territory holder will driver away the intruder, by showing better body colour,
better flying skill, larger in size or some other advantages. Sometime the very
close and violent contact are occurred. The males will stay in their
territory and wait for the female.
In most dragonflies and some damselflies, females only visit their breeding
site to mate and lay eggs. They will leave the breeding sit after laying eggs,
until not batch of eggs are ready.
When the female enter the male territory (or when a male meet a female in the
non-territory species), they will start the next mating sequence, the courtship
Courtship and Recognition
- Courtship and recognition includes the male showing his
oviposition site to the female. By courtship, the male and female can make sure
they are the same species and are suitable mates. The female may reject the
mating if she thinks the oviposition site is not good enough. There are
different courtship pattern for different species.
- The above pictures show a female come into a male territory,
they just start the courtship and recognition.
- For some species, after the female enters the male territory, she will
immediately be grasped and clasped by the male and the couple will mate, no
courtship can be seen.
For the non-territory species, there will also be the courtship and
recognition stage. They may swarm and several males may pursuit the same
female. This is common in damselflies.
- If the female do not accept the male, various signal will be
made, depends on species. The most common is the downward curving of her
abdomen. If the female indicates acceptance, the male will grasp her thorax
with his legs, i.e., start the next mating sequence, Grasping and
Grasping and Clasping
The male grasps the female head or thorax and curves his
abdomen to clasp her prothorax or head with his anal appendages to form the
tandem pair. This action usually takes less than a second.
- The picture shows a male overtakes a female from above.
They may do this in air or when the female is on vegetation. Sometime the male
may force the female to land or even knock flying female onto the water.
- The above pictures show the anal appendages at the abdomen tips of a Australian
Flatwing Damselfly male and a Blue Skimmer
Dragonfly male. Damselflies have a pair of inferior appendages and a pair
superior appendages, i.e.., totally four appendages. Dragonflies have a pair
of superior appendages and a single inferior one, totally three. Those
specialized appendages are used to clasp the female for copulation. In
damselflies the male clasp the prothorax of the female. In dragonflies the
male clasp the female back of the head. Those appendages will only fit into
the same species female.
- At this stage, the couple is said to be 'in tandem position'.
- Tandem position is the male seizure of the female head
(dragonflies) or prothorax (damselflies). The male and female will be in
tandem for a while, from seconds to minutes. They may fly in tandem or find a
suitable place to settle.
Intramale Sperm translocation
All insect males have their genital opening for sperm at the
ninth abdominal segment. Dragonflies/damselflies males have (beside the first
genitalia) their secondary genitalia, which is the accessory organ on
the second abdominal. Sperm is moved from the first genitalia into the
secondary genitalia just before copulation.
- The picture shows the male transferring sperm to his
genitalia (or accessory genitalia). The male bend his abdomen forward
so that the first genitalia touches his secondary genitalia. This may take
- For dragonflies the males do this before he finds a
female. For damselflies the males do this immediately afterwards.
- After forming a tandem and the sperm in the male secondary genitalia
is ready, male damselfly invites copulation by wing flapping and flexing the
abdomen. The female responds with bending up her abdomen to the
genitalia of the male and form the wheel position.
- Dragonflies usually start copulation in flight, the male swing up the
- The female then curls her abdomen forwards to contact with the secondary
genitalia in order to receive sperm. The male and female form the heart shape
wheel and it is known as Wheel Position. Notice that in damselfly male is
holding by female's neck (prothorax) while in dragonfly is holding the back
- Most damselflies settle and perched for copulation. Most dragonflies
start copulation in flight, some may continue in flight and some may settle.
Settle copulation usually last longer, from minutes to hours. Air copulation
may last only a few seconds.
- For some species, it is found that before transferring his sperm, the
male will remove the existing sperm from the female genitalia which is from
earlier mate, then replace it with his own.
Tandem after Copulation
After the copulation the couple may separate or remain in tandem, depends
- A long period of Tandem Position may be occurred after copulation. The
couple may be at rest or in flight and there is no genital contact. The
reason could be the male waiting for the female for the readiness of
oviposition. By holding the female he can make sure she does not mate with
other male before laying eggs.
The male often accompanies the female when she oviposits. Eggs are laid in
two general ways, some species females, they have their sharp ovipositor which
can cut into plants and deposit eggs into there. Some species do not have
their sharp ovipositor and simply drop their eggs into waters.
- There are different ways of male accompaniment, some species are still in
tandem, with the female laying eggs into the plants materials, using her
sharp ovipositor to cut open the plants materials. This is common in
many damselflies and some Hawker
- Some species in tandem with the female dipping her abdomen tip quickly
into the water surface, wash away the eggs by water. This is can be seen
in some skimmer
- Some species the male hovers around and guard the female when she is
laying eggs, which is common in many territorial skimmers, such as the Bog Skimmers.
- However, some species female may oviposits alone. This is common in
and some damselflies.
- The adult male and female may live 7-10 weeks. A female may lay several
batches of eggs. Each batch she may lay a few hundreds to a few thousands
eggs, depends on species. Those eggs may hatch after 5-40 days, depend on
species, temperature and other conditions. Generally there are about
10-15 instars stages, may take one to ten years living in waters, depends on
species. Then they emergence and become adults. A new cycle is started.
Questions for Discussion
There is still not known exactly why the dragonfly male have
two sets of reproduction organs and why they evolved such a complex mating
The secondary genitalia is used as the intromittent organ
during copulation and have similar function as the pedipalps of a male
spiders introduce sperm into females.
All predator males have a common problem - how to avoid being
eaten by the females before, during and after mating. To a female point of
view, there is benefit and no disadvantage to prey on the male unless the
male has contribution to bring up their offspring.
Male dragonflies and damselflies successfully solved this
problem by clasping the female with their anal appendages before, during and
after mating. We seldom see male eaten by female. This could be one of the
reasons that they evolved such such a complex mating behaviour.
Male spiders also solved this problem, although not as good
as the dragonflies, as we know male spider is still sometime eaten by female.
Male spiders evolved their pedipalps to hold their sperm so that they can run
away a bit more easier after mating.
Praying Mantids, the relatively young order compares with
spiders and dragonflies, did not have enough time to evolved a solution yet.
So praying mantids male is known to be eaten by female from time to time.
This could be the reason why some assassin bug species breed
parthenogentically, i.e., reproduce by female without mating. Some assassin
bug species male help to look after their young.
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