(Chelsea Update would like to thank Tom Hodgson and the Waterloo Natural History Association for the photos and information in this story.)
More than 100 species of dragonflies and damselflies call the Waterloo Recreation Area home.
All begin their lives as aquatic nymphs (larvae), inhabiting area lakes and streams, where they are an important part of the food chain. And, most species spend two to three years as nymphs before becoming adults.
The adults live from a few weeks to a few months, feeding and mating, then laying eggs in the water before succumbing to predators or cold weather.
Dragons and damsels both belong to the order Odonata, but have distinct differences.
Dragonflies are strongly built, rapid fliers that hold their wings flat when perched.
Damselflies are more slightly built, weak fliers.
Most hold their wings over their backs when perched, and as adults, both are predators of other insects. The dragonflies are also called mosquito hawks as they will gorge on mosquitoes when they are abundant. In fact, a single dragonfly can eat its own weight in insects in about 30 minutes.
As nymphs, dragon and damselflies eat mosquito larvae, other aquatic insects, worms and even an occasional tadpole or small fish.
Once they reach full size, they crawl out of the water onto emerging vegetation, molt (shed their exoskeletons) and emerge as flying adults. Their empty exoskeletons can be found clinging to emerging plants and objects along lake shores in May and June.
Though they begin their lives in the water, once they emerge as flying adults, they may set up territories in fields and back yards a considerable distance from their origin. Although dragons and damsels are not as striking as butterflies, their bodies and wings are often multicolored with interesting patterns.
Below are images of a few of the more common and colorful species are included with this article as well as immature dragonflies and damselflies.