Spreadwing Damselflies

A long slender insect rests on a twig.

NPS/Gordon Dietzman


There are at least six species of spreadwings that may live in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. Determining to species often requires capturing the insect and examining it under a hand lens, although some can be determined through good photographs.

For the rest of us, the key identification feature for this group of medium to large damselflies is that they hold their wings open in a "V" shape when viewed from above. (Dragonflies hold their wings stiffly out to the side and other damselflies fold their wings against the abdomen.)

Most other Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) survive our harsh Minnesota winters as larvae at the bottom of wetlands, streams, and lakes. Several of the spreadwing species take a very different survival strategy by overwintering as eggs. The spreadwings inject their eggs into emergent vegetation above the normal waterline. The eggs begin to develop but their development is arrested as winter begins. As snows melt and rains come in the spring, water levels rise and inundate the eggs which then continue to develop and eventually hatch.

Overwintering as eggs, combined with rapid larvae growth, permit these particular spreadwing species to exploit temporary ponds that other Odonata cannot use.

The distribution of spreadwings, other damselflies, and dragonflies is not well known in Minnesota. The Minnesota Odonata Survey Project is a resource for those that want to help determine which species live in Minnesota and their ranges and to learn more about these insects.


Key ID Features: This group of damselflies are easy to identify as they hold their wings in a "V" shape over their abdomens. Dragonflies hold their wings to the side while other damselflies fold the wings neatly along the abdomen.

Present in Park: June through September. Look in grasses and short shrubs near water features.

Habitat: Quiet water ponds and lakes. Observe these insects as they flit about through and just above the grasses near water features.

Last updated: December 4, 2017

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