In vying for the perfect patch to claim as their territory, male damselflies go to war. They don’t just charge into battle unprepared, however, as new research indicates the males settles on a pre-duel strategy.

The beautiful wings of damselflies are key – they are large, and often colourful. They also show off a male’s potential strength to any competitors looking to take over its turf or steal its mates. Before engaging in dramatic aerial duels, males will assess their opponents wings, and work out a plan of action.

In some species, more transparent wings combined with larger spots of colour indicate a stronger, fearsome competitor. Stronger males generally throw their weight around, ending duels quickly by chasing, grabbing, or biting their weaker opponent. If a damselfly decides to take on a tough guy, however, it will adopt a different strategy. Its aerial manoeuvres will be more dramatic and dazzling, its flight an attempt to wear down its rival or disorient them with flashy moves to fast to follow.

The study author, Rhainer Guillermo-Ferreira, believes this shows a fascinating complexity in how damselflies go to war: “Even animals with simple nervous systems, such as damselflies and other insects, may exhibit complex assessment strategies,” he concludes. 

 

Guillermo-Ferreira, R, Gorb, S, Appel, E, et al. (2015). Variable assessment of wing colouration in aerial contests of the red-winged damselfly Mnesarete pudica (Zygoptera, Calopterygidae)The Science of Nature – Naturwissenschaften, DOI: 10.1007/s00114-015-1261-z

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