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BACKYARD BEASTS
by Valerie


January, 2017

Southern Spreadwing

Many people ask how to tell a dragonfly from a damselfly. One standard reply is that damselflies hold their wings vertically and together over their backs while dragonflies position theirs horizontally to the sides. This is one of those characteristics that works most of the time, but definitely has its exceptions. The southern spreadwing (Lestes australis) is a member of a whole family of damselflies that is an exception. Lestidae is commonly called the "spreadwing damsels," and the reason is obvious. They typically prefer to perch with their wings open, dragonfly style. There are various morphological clues that aid in identification, but they are subtle and difficult for non-experts to distinguish. In fact, all the various species of Lestes are separated by only tiny differences, making them a challenge to correctly identify. One way they definitely differ from dragonflies is in the very slender build of their bodies.

All damselflies are predators, and they tend to hunt low to the ground, which makes them excellent at controlling mosquitoes that often reside in shady areas. Spreadwings are on the large side for damselflies, often reaching almost 2" in length. They are never very numerous and sometimes hang out a fair distance from water. I usually find only a few every year.



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