Odonata Click to enlarge image
Dragonfly (Order Odonata) Image: Andrew Howells
© Australian Museum

Dragonflies and damselflies belong to the Order Odonata.

What do dragonflies and damselflies look like?


  • 20 mm - 150 mm in length.


  • Widest at wing attachment (wide shoulders), abdomen column-like.
  • Appears soft and fragile.


  • Short and hair-like.


  • Large and bulging.
  • Well separated (damselflies) or nearly touching (dragonflies).
  • Mouthparts: for chewing or munching; held slightly forward at rest.


  • Two pairs.
  • Both pairs are membranous, clear and similar in length. In dragonflies the hindwing is generally wider.
  • Both pairs have numerous cross-veins forming many cells.At rest dragonflies hold their wings outstretched with all four wings visible. In contrast, damselflies hold their wings upright, above their body and usually pressed flat together.


  • Six legs, short with strong bristles.
  • Fore- and midlegs held out from body and bent at elbows.

Abdomen tip:

  • Two short cerci (tails).
  • Sometimes modified as claspers in males which are used to hold onto the female during mating.

Where are dragonflies and damselflies found?

  • Males often found near water perched on vegetation, rocks or in the air.
  • Females may be found away from water.

What do dragonflies and damselflies do?

  • They are solitary, though it is not uncommon to see large numbers perched on structures like fences.
  • When disturbed they fly away.
  • Dragonflies are extremely strong fliers; capable of high speeds and flight in all directions. Damselflies are not so active.
  • Some are perchers that tend to make short flights and return to a preferred perch, others are fliers that tend to spend the majority of their active periods on the wing.
  • Males tend to be territorial.
  • They are all predators that prey primarily on flying insects, taken from the air or as they land on vegetation.
  • They are mostly active during the day, though some are primarily active around twilight and few are active at night.

What looks similar?

  • Alderflies and dobsonflies can be distinguished by wings with fewer cells, which they hold tent-like over their body. They also have well-developed antennae and their abdomen is very soft. Alderflies or dobsonflies also tend to be weak fliers and active during the night.
  • Lacewings can be distinguished by the forked veins along their wing margin. Lacewings also hold their wings tent-like over their body. Lacewings also have well-developed antennae and tend to be weak fliers.