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Characteristics of Odonata Larvae

John W. H. Trueman and Richard J. Rowe

All odonate larvae possess a labial mask. Other obvious features include a large head with well-developed eyes, external wingpads in the later stages, and either a narrowly tapering, or fusiform, or rounded abdomen. Gills occur along the sides of the abdomen in one zygopteran family and gill protrusions in other places (eg, on the terminal segments) in a few tropical genera. However, the vast majority of aquatic insect larvae with abdominal lateral gills or gill tufts are mayflies (Ephemeroptera) or stoneflies (Plecoptera).

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Young larva of a damselfly, Austrolestes colensonis (New Zealand). Photo: R. J. Rowe
Copyright 1997 R. J. Rowe

Click on an image to view larger version & data in a new window
Click on an image to view larger version & data in a new window

Near-mature larva of an aeshnid dragonfly (USA). Photo: Larry J. Friesen
Copyright 1997 Larry Jon Friesen, Santa Barbara City College, USA.

Identification to suborder can be based on the caudal end of the body. Zygopterans have three (very exceptionally two) plate-like, cylindrical or sac-like gills. Although these sometimes are broken or lost, rarely are all three missing and invariably the stumps can be seen. In Anisoptera and Anisozygoptera these gills are reduced to three short spines, forming with two others a pointed "anal pyramid" around the rectum. Gas exchange in Anisopteran larvae is by gills inside the rectum. Many Anisoptera use 'jet propulsion' -- forcible expulsion of water from the rectum -- as an escape response.

About This Page

John W. H. Trueman
Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

Richard J. Rowe
James Cook University of North Queensland, Townsville, Queensland, Australia

All Rights Reserved.

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