These Rare Damselflies Find Love With a Twist in Fog City | Deep Look

From Deep Look.

Most damselflies prefer sunny spots, but the quirky San Francisco forktail damselfly digs the fogginess of its hometown. When they hook up, they do it in style – linking their delicate bodies in a heart shape, then flying tandem for an hour or more after.

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The San Francisco forktail damselfly fits right in, in its hometown – a city that has long-attracted dreamers, misfits and lovers. Unlike most other damselfly species, the San Francisco forktail has uniquely adapted to the cooler, foggy conditions here, evolving a darker, more robust body, and a tolerance for colder weather. There are thousands of species of damselflies and their dragonfly cousins – a family of flying insects called odonates – but the San Francisco forktail is currently considered one the rarest in North America.

Living in the city comes with obvious challenges for any wild animal trying to maintain its wild habitat. This rare and beautiful insect faces the perils of climate change and habitat loss, as well as hybridization with other local species. As the years go by, a warming climate means less of their beloved cool fog.

Scientists at the San Francisco Zoo are working with ecologists from the Presidio Trust to re-establish the San Francisco forktail.

— What’s the difference between a damselfly and a dragonfly?
Damselflies and dragonflies are both odonates, a group of flying insects, but there are ways to tell them apart. Damselflies are typically more slender-bodied than their thicker, more robust dragonfly cousins. When they are at rest, damselflies usually fold their wings neatly behind themselves, and dragonflies keep their wings outstretched. Also, the two compound damselfly eyes are spaced apart, while dragonfly compound eyes are larger and connected in the middle.

— What is a baby damselfly called?
Just like their dragonfly cousins, young damselfly nymphs are called naiads, and they spend the first phase of their lives living underwater. Naiads breathe through caudal gills that look like leafy appendages on their backsides. This phase of life can last from two months to more than a year, depending on species, water temperature and food availability.

— What do damselflies eat?
Adult damselflies, like all odonates, eat flies, mosquitoes and other small insects, playing an important role in the food web (and keeping those mosquito numbers in check for us humans). They hover among small grasses and low vegetation, ambushing their prey.

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