A Damsel, But No Distress

Powdered dancer  ~ Argia moesta
(Click image for more detail)


This delicate damselfly — a female — greeted me along the River Road between Kerrville and Center point last June after I stopped to photograph a few skeleton plants that had caught my eye.

In this case, color provided an easy key to identification. Powdered dancer males show a whitish head and thorax, but females are much more colorful: sometimes a greenish-brown, and sometimes this lovely blue.

A key to distinguishing females of this species from the blue-fronted dancer also is color: female powdered dancers exhibit lighter coloration atop their abdomens, rather than black. In addition, female powdered dancers have two cells below the stigma (the small, colored area on the wing), while a blue-fronted dancer has only one.

I remember this day as sunny, but it must have been warm, as well, since an interesting feature of this species is that blue forms become gray when temperatures are cool.


Comments always are welcome.

60 thoughts on “A Damsel, But No Distress

  1. Great picture. This damselfly is new to me, and is very attractive, as are they all I might add. I look forward each year to the appearance of Ebony Jewelwings locally, but we have a while to wait before they will be here to enliven the wetlands. In the meantime a flock of sixteen American Avocets arrived yesterday on the Conestogo River in nearby Hawkesville, a rarity here.

    1. The name ‘ebony jewelwing’ certainly created an image in my mind, but the creature itself is even more attractive than I imagined. When you say they’ll ‘arrive’ — is that by hatching, or migration? I only learned a couple of years ago that dragonflies migrate, and often in such numbers that, like birds, they can be picked up on radar.

      Have you seen the avocets? They’re quite beautiful, too. I don’t often see them myself, although others who spend more time along the shore do.

  2. Great timing. First damselflies of the season just appeared at our backyard pond yesterday. Also, a couple of orange dragonflies. Fun to watch. Nice image, Linda.

    1. They’re great fun to watch, although trying to get a photo of one can be a chore. I was lucky with this one, and wondered if it wasn’t a bit sluggish that morning, like butterflies can be when it’s cool or cloudy. Of course, that morning was beautiful, but this damselfly might have been a slug-a-bed by nature.

    1. I know very few well enough to say, “That’s a [fill in the blank]”,and most of the ones I know are dragonflies rather than damselflies. Reading about the distinctions between species can be daunting — but I got lucky with this one, just because I grew up knowing ‘powder blue’ as a color, and it worked here as a search term.

  3. Super photograph! I love to watch damselflies and the bigger dragonflies too – hoping they’ll move in when our pond is finished!

    1. Something I learned about this damselfly is that it prefers rivers and streams rather than ponds. That kind of distinction never had occurred to me. I assumed that for a dragon-or-damselfly, water was water. Not so! In one of those “Ah, ha!” moments, I remembered the name eastern pondhawk, and looked it up. Sure enough — it’s a dragonfly that prefers ponds and still waters.

      In the process of learning all that, I discovered a musical group from Chicago called The Pondhawks. I wonder if any sports team might consider exchanging their power dancers for powdered dancers?

      1. I hadn’t thought about whether some damselflies prefer running water. There’s a stretch of river near us where I’ve seen lots of deep blue damselflies – a beautiful sight! :)

        1. See there? You just confirmed that damselfly-river connection. Lucky you to be able to see them in groups. Now I’m thinking I see more dragonflies because we have more marshes and slow-running bayous than rivers and streams. When I’m next in ‘river country,’ I’ll have to look.

  4. A beautiful damsel fly found on a very pretty drive, I’d say. Damsel and dragon flies always remind me of a money-making scheme I had in jr. high. I lived on the west side of Houston, near Memorial and what is Kirkwood now. Kirkwood did not exist then and we were surrounded by forests, creeks and rice fields instead of streets. I could catch dragon and damsel flies in quantity for our science class insect collections while my more urban classmates couldn’t find them, probably due to mosquito control spraying. So I sold them for 10 cents each, a fortune in those days. I suspect that in these more enlightened times they don’t assign those insect collection projects anymore. And that’s definitely a good thing for the damsel flies.

    1. The River Road is of my favorite drives in the area, and I always use it to skirt around to the west side of Kerrville.

      I suspect you might have been collecting insects about the time that a friend was quail hunting with his dad on land where the Galleria and Transco Tower now stand. I didn’t get to Houston until 1973, but it certainly has changed in forty-some years. I can only imagine the changes you’ve seen.

      Your little entreprenurial project reminded me of a boy in my grade school class who had his own way of funding projects. He’d eat spoonsful of dirt for a nickel. In those days of penny candy, a nickel could buy a good bit down at the neighborhood gas station. Root beer barrels were two for a penny, and Walnettos were only a penny each — and there was a lot of dirt.

  5. It’s good that you managed to get perpendicular to the damselfly. Circumstances often don’t allow that.

    Coincidence: my next post includes the word “distress.”

    1. I hope you’ll be showing a plant’s distress, rather than your own — not that I wish distress on any plant, of course.

      As for perpendicularity, you were the one who first explained the importance of that to me. As a matter of fact, it was in October of 2015; I know, because I still have the photo of the dragonfly I was fussing over, wondering why I couldn’t get the entire insect in focus.

      1. A lesson taken to heart: optics in action. My own latest attempt at a damselfly picture failed because vegetation blocked me from getting the camera perpendicular to the damselfly.

        As you’ve found out by now, my latest post happily highlighted distress by its absence in a four-nerve daisy colony.

  6. A gorgeous capture, Linda! I’m seeing more damsels around, as well. I just love them and they do seem to like to have their photos taken…

    1. Tina, it’s been my impression that damselflies don’t flit as much as dragonflies; they seem willing to perch for longer periods of time. Of course there are dragonflies that will stay in place for a while, too. Still — it seems to be a consistent difference between them. I’m just happy when one deigns to pause!

      1. Yes, I’d agree with that. They’re very patient insects. Since they’re predators, I wonder if that is, in part, why they tend to perch for long periods. I think you’re also right about dragon flies; they always take flight just as I’m about the press the camera’s button. I thought it was just me.

    1. Isn’t she a beauty? Never in my life did I imagine I could distinguish between a female and a male damselfly, but here’s one instance where I could. Amazing!

    1. And as so often happens, it was one thing that stopped me (the skeleton plants) and another that ended up being the surprising treasure. There was a good bit of luck here, Jeanie, since I was afraid she was going to fly away. I took as many photos as I could before it happened, and I’m glad one turned out to be share-worthy.

  7. “blue forms become gray when temperatures are cool” — really? It’s like she changes dresses when the weather changes. Typical female!

    I’ve always been a bit mystified how dragonflies fly. Their bodies just don’t look made for flight, with those delicate wings and that long skinny segmented abdomen. Great capture!

    1. That’s exactly right — a change of color to suit the circumstances. That made me think about the anole lizards, and how they change from brown to green and back again. I’ve always assumed it was a matter of camouflage — blending in with the background — but I wondered if they were influenced by temperature, too.

      When I checked it out, I found this on a Texas A&M site: “The color changes are caused by hormones, and can be triggered by temperature, background color, or mood.” Mood? Who knew? Apparently lizards can have off days, too, as well as being affected by temperature!

  8. I love the shot of this beautiful damselfly and your detailed explanation. At first glance I would almost certainly have said it was a Blue-fronted Dancer. The differences are quite subtle and you have to get a really good shot from the right angle to be able to see them. Damselfly identification is tough for me. As you showed, dancers can be somewhat challenging, but it’s all of the different bluets that tend to drive me crazy.

    1. It took me a while to wrap my mind around the differences that were being described, but comparing online photos of the two species finally cleared things up. Of course, I had to figure out what the stigma were, first — I really was lucky to get those at an angle where the cells beneath them are visible.

      The bluets are pretty. I didn’t realize that ‘bluet’ could refer to damselflies; I’ve only known the word as the name of a flower. I’m not sure I’ve seen the damselfly bluet, but I do have some photos of bluet-the-flower. I suppose the connect is that ‘bluet’ is a diminuitive for ‘blue.’

        1. The slender bluet looks most familiar. There’s one blue species that hangs around the marinas a lot — that’s where I usually see damselflies — but I’ve not seen any yet this year. When they begin showing up, I’ll start by comparing them to these — thanks so much for those links!

          I do remember that the damselfly that ate the other damselfly right down to the eyes on the hand rail of the trawler I was working on was blue. Whether the other one was colored blue I can’t say, but I suspect it was pretty blue by the time it realized it was lunch!

  9. The body looks like it was painted that lovely shade of blue (you know me and blue and white!), and then sanded to make it look “rustic.” Their wings always remind me of a wire mesh dipped in bubble blowing juice. Not surprisingly this blue form also becomes grey when the temperatures are cool.

    1. It does resemble those furniture finishes that were so popular for a while. It took me a while to find the term for the technique, and when I found it, I laughed; it was called ‘distressed.’ That certainly adds a fun layer to the title. I’d never thought of bubble blowers. I always seen stained glass minus the color. The patterns are beautiful — no question about that. I suppose that each species’ wings are different. The complexity’s astounding.

  10. There are so many varieties of blue damsels, the challenge of a positive ID seems overpowering sometimes. We have quite a few in the north woods in summer, and I sure hope I’ll be able to spend some time with them this year.

    1. I hope you can too. How long do they linger there? If you can find them into August and September, I’d think your chances are good. I certainly hope so.

      Identification’s easier for me now — which isn’t to say it’s easy, or that I’m often right. When young, I was nervous around dragonflies, probably because they seemed unpredictable and noisy. Now, I’ve learned a little more about their behavior, including their very helpful habit of returning to the same spot time after time — waiting is easier than chasing.

    1. It took me a while to figure out what seemed odd about it. I finally got it. The eye is enough closer to the camera that it’s slightly out of focus, while the face, the stigma, and the tip of the abdomen share the same plane. No matter — she’s a cutie!

    1. No kidding! There are three places that “make” any trip to my friends’ place in Kerrville: a stop at the BurgerBarn in Center Point, a visit to Gibson’s Discount Center in town, and a stop at Adams’ apple store in Medina (think strudel). When did your ancestors get here? I’m thinking it surely was the 1800s — but before or after Texas Independence? Do you have any written records, like journals?

      No wonder you’re so good at clearing brush and riding the fences!

  11. Oh, nice shot! She is a beauty. I find the blue damselflies so hard to take pictures of, as they seem to be invisible until you get close enough. You must be super stealthy.

    1. Stealthy? I can be (or at least I sometimes try to be) but just as often I’ll come across something like this damselfly unexpectedly, and the ‘window of opportunity’ is that moment while the critter’s thinking, “Anyone that clumsy surely can’t be up to no good…”

  12. No distress indeed. This is a lovely species and I think unusual that the female is the pretty one. Most often it is the males, at least with birds and butterflies. I haven’t seen any damsels or dragons yet but I think they should be out now that it is warming up.

    1. I’m seeing a lot of dragonflies now. The best I can do is “blue ones, green ones, and brown ones,” although I do think I’ve seen eastern pondhawks and some pennants — maybe even a Halloween pennant. It’s certainly warm enough for them here — temperatures in the 80s and low 90s until the next front, which should take us down to the 70s at night. It’s a little early for summertime heat, but it usually arrives by late May, so it’s not that early.

      A summer spent rescuing damsels and slaying dragons wouldn’t be so bad, now that I think about it.

        1. Those do look like great resources. The second one’s too pricey for me, but the first is doable. If I ever get that mythical stimulus payment, I might spend a few bucks on books.

          1. Yeah, mythical. All that stimulus money went to the fat cats leaving self-employed folks like you without. I hope this latest round goes to the people like you who do it all themselves and those medical folks who are risking their lives.

            1. Oh, I’m not eligible for any of the programs designed for the self-employed, etc. The check I’m waiting for is the $1200 payment that’s going out to everyone in the lower income brackets. Some friends have received theirs, and some haven’t. It’ll come — it’s just one more chance to learn patience.

            2. We got ours a while back because we receive our SS deposits electronically so that speeded things up. I finally got my unemployment straightened out and am okay financially. It seems we should be getting back to work in a few weeks. Our governor is being very cautious about openings so we’ll see if a furniture store qualifies. I am not generally around anyone for the better part of the day so should be good but I’ll be wearing a mask when necessary. I thought all self-employed people were now supposed to get help. Are you not eligible for the relief because you can still work in solitude?

            3. Let’s just say it’s complicated — the last complication being that they decided to send a check on May 1 via the mail rather than using direct deposit,which they’ve been using for years. And of course they don’t have my current address, since I’ve moved sinced last filing taxes, and it seems you can’t change your address with the IRS until you next file taxes. And, yes, I have a change of address on file for first class forwarding, but… See? better to not think about it, and just have a cup of coffee.

  13. What a beautiful damsel, and ‘skeleton’ plants are gorgeous. Whats great about damsels is that they can at least hold their pose long enough than other insects, although dragonflies are better in my opinion.

    1. I’ve noticed that around the boats. When a damselfly decides to land on a dock line, for example, it may stay there for a while: sometimes, as much as a minute or two. I wish they were as accomodating when I’m not working. The sensitivity of both damsel- and dragonflies to movement’s astonishing. Even the movement of a hand can send them away. Sometimes that’s frustrating, but it’s always interesting.

    1. There was so much luck involved with this shot. When I spotted the skeleton flowers and pulled to the side of the road, I didn’t even urn the car off — I just threw open the door, walked around to the ditch, and there it was. Amazing, really. Suddenly, the skeleton flowers seemed less important!

    1. They’re beginning to emerge here in substantial numbers, and I’ve seen quite a number of dragonfly species. The damselflies still are a little scarce, at least where I’ve been, but I suspect they’re around, too. They’re such fun to watch — photos are the bonus.

  14. Nice that you got it to stay put long enough and close enough for a macro. “Don’t mind me, I’m just looking at this plant…”

    1. Being the great anthropomorphizer that I am, I’m tempted to interpret its expression as, “What in the world does that big critter think she’s doing?” I’m just glad I had the macro lens on the camera. I suspect any sort of lens change would have meant the end of the encounter.

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