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Male or Female?

The majority of specimens that you will first notice at any water body will be male as these individuals will be holding territories and looking for females who display typically more covert behaviour. In general the males are easier to identify than their female counterparts. This is partially due to a number of species having two or more different female colour forms.

The gender of the specimen may be immediately apparent from the observed behaviour ie. ovipositing or copulating, but in the absence of such clues it is best to look on the underside of the abdomen for the following:

  • All males have a bulge under segment 2 where the secondary genitalia are located. This is clearly absent in females.
  • All female damselflies and female hawker dragonflies have a blade like ovipositor present on the underside of the abdomen. This is used in endophytic oviposition which is explained in the life cycle.
  • Females also tend to have broader straight sided abdomens even though the male of the same species may have a waisted or club-shaped abdomen.

The photographs below illustrate these points.

Photograph © S. Barlow

Male Emerald Damselfly with a bulge under segment 2, no ovipositor and a slimmer abdomen than the female (above right).

Photograph © S. Barlow

Female Emerald Damselfly with no bulge under segment 2, a clearly visible ovipositor and a far stockier body than the male (above left).

Photograph © D. Williams

The male Common Clubtail has a notably club-shaped abdomen. Also visible are the acute angles of the hindwings allowing space for the legs of the female during copulation.

Photograph © D. Williams

The female Common Clubtail has a stockier and more parallel sided abdomen than that of the male. The hind edges of the rear wings are also more rounded.