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Insect Identification Key
Order Odonata: the dragonflies and damselflies

Dragonflies and damselflies
Assorted members of the Order Odonata: (clockwise from upper left) white-faced meadowhawk (Sympetrum obstrusum); green darner (Anax junius); eastern amberwing (Perithemis tenera); assorted damselflies (suborder Zygoptera). Collected and identified by Sara Mitchell. Photos by Amanda McCreless.
Click here to see examples of more dragonflies and damselflies!

Based on your answers to the questions, you have identified your insect as being in the order Odonata!

Members of this order include: dragonflies and damselflies.

Etymology: Odonata comes from the Grek odonta, which means tooth. This refers to the strong teeth that are present on the jaws of most of these insects.

General characteristics:
• two pairs of long wings of approximately the same size
• wings are membranous and net-veined. Note: When at rest, dragonflies hold their wings straight out to the sides (as shown in the photo of the eastern amberwing at right), and the damselflies typically hold their wings together over the back.
• a head that is highly maneuverable
• large compound eyes that often cover most of the head
• three ocelli
• very short antennae
chewing mouthparts
• “tilted” thorax segments, which allow the legs to be bunched up near the head, while the wings are set farther back on the body
hemimetabolous metamorphosis (egg — naiad — adult)


Click here to see examples of more dragonflies and damselflies!

Number of species worldwide: about 4,900

Classification:
Kingdom Animalia
   Phylum Arthropoda
      Class Insecta
         Order Odonata
            Suborder Epiprocta (the dragonflies)
            Suborder Zygoptera (the damselflies)

For a list of all of the orders in this key, click here: List of Orders.

Classification note:
The suborder Epiprocta is a new designation. It takes the place of the suborder Anisoptera, the dragonflies, and the suborder Anisozygoptera, which has no living members in North America.

Even though their names may sound like it, dragonflies and damselflies are not types of flies. True flies are in the order Diptera.

Oops! If this doesn't appear to be the order for your insect, go back through the key and look more carefully at your insect while answering the questions again. Your perseverance will reward you!

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Photos at the top of this website are (from left to right): potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) — photo credit: Scott Bauer, U.S. Department of Agriculture; ebony jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)— photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; sweat bee (Agapostemon splendens) — photo credit: Natalie Allen and Stephanie Kolski, U.S. Geological Survey; preying mantis, monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), hellgrammite (aka toe biter) larva and eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus) — photo credit: Leslie Mertz, DailyGraceCards.com; Halloween pennant (Celithemis eponina) — photo credit: Kay Meng, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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