Most damselflies and dragonflies seen near a creek or river in Ontario move too quickly to be easily identified by someone out on a leisurely walk. These Jewelwings, though, are very noticeable with their shiny black wings and turquoise blue or emerald green bodies. As if they are interested in helping passersby to see and identify them, Jewelwings often fly slowly and perch frequently–encouraging people to take out their phones and snap a photo.
Which Jewelwing Damselfly Has Four Entirely Black Wings and an Emerald Green or Electric Turquoise Blue Body?
Around the Greater Toronto Area, the most commonly seen black-winged damselfly is the Ebony Jewelwing. Mature males have solid black wings with no white spots. Their bodies, like a hummingbird’s, glitter in the sun. Usually they look brilliantly green or electric blue.
If you see one whose wings have a small white bar near the ends, it is probably a female Ebony Jewelwing. Their bodies are usually more bronzy than green and their wings are usually more smoky that truly black.
(I’m not sure what immature male Ebony Jewelwings look like. Most dragonfly immature males look a bit like the females.)
Where Do Ebony Jewelwing Damselflies Lay Their Eggs?
If I walk down a path at the Riverwood Conservancy, 16-Mile Creek, or Bronte Creek Provincial Park in late June or the summer, I often see Ebony Jewelwing damselflies along the paths resting on the lower branches or shrubs or on top of the Jewelweed or Nettles. These damselflies are no where near the streams or rivers in these parks.
When the paths lead me near the creeks and river, though, I see even more Ebony Jewelwings. Those moving-water streams, creeks and rivers are where the females will deposit their eggs. Although they seem to enjoy hunting and basking further inland, they return to the water to breed. The eggs are laid in “floating or submerged vegetation” according to Stokes.
According to Stokes Beginners Guide to Dragonflies, their preferred habitats are “shallow, shaded streams” and rivers with plants growing along the edges. I certainly do see them in those settings. And when I think about it, I don’t usually see them very near places that only have still water ponds and lakes.
These Jewelwing Damselflies Wings are Only One Third Black and the Rest Is Clear
Much less common in the Greater Toronto Area, GTA, is another Jewelwing Damselfly. At first glance, especially in flight, it may be mistaken for an Ebony Jewelwing because part of the wing is solid black but the rest is clear. The body is the same vivid metallic green or electric turquoise blue as the Ebony Jewelwing’s. The females look like Ebony Jewelwing females except that only the outer last third of the wing is black and the first two thirds are smoky brown.
These are River Jewelwings. I saw my first ones in the middle of June. A fellow nature enthusiast had reported seeing them along Sixteen Mile Creek in Oakville, south of Dundas. It took me two visits exploring along the creek edges wherever the paths came in close to parallel the water to find some.
How Common Are River Jewelwing and Ebony Jewelwing Damselflies?
Ebony Jewelwings are quite common in the GTA. During mid to late June, I may see dozens on a single walk.
River Jewelwings are not as commonly seen here. Even where I found them at Sixteen Mile Creek, there were nine Ebony Jewelwings and only three River Jewelwings. I had to look closely at each damselfly to find the Rivers.
In the Stokes guide, it says that River Jewelwings prefer “swift and somewhat rocky streams.” That may be why I see fewer of them as my local paths tend to be along fast stretches of river or lazy muddy sections of streams.
Are Ebony Jewelwings Territorial?
Some dragonflies I meet along my walks are very territorial. You’ll see the resident defender swiftly chasing any intruder out of its range. Whenever I read in the newspaper that an air force scrambled its jets to escort a plane out of important air space, I always see an image of a Common Whitetail or other territorial dragonfly zooming up to intercept a potential rival.
Ebony Jewelwings don’t seem territorial to me. I often see a group of several males and several females perched within inches of each other.
A male Ebony Jewelwing tries to impress the ladies.
When I found the River Jewelwings along the creek, I also found an active group of Ebony Jewelwings. The Ebony males were putting on a bit of an airshow. They were flying and fluttering at the edge of the creek where the plants hang out over the water. Often they would be making black Xs in the sky with their four wings spread widely apart.
According to the Stokes guide, this was probably their “fluttering courtship display” being put on for the perched females.
I did notice that the males would occasionally zip straight at other perched males forcing them up and into flight. Even more rarely, they would zoom at the male River Jewelwing.
I started watching to see if the males would deliberately antagonize the male River Jewelwing. The two species look so similar, I wondered if they recognized it as a different species.
During the ten minutes or so that I watched, only once did the male Ebonies seem to deliberately antagonize the male River. That compared fairly significantly with the repeated bullying of the other perched male Ebonies. So it seemed likely that they realized it wasn’t a rival and ignored it.
The Careful Selection of the Perfect Basking and Hunting Perch By Jewelwings and Other Damselflies
Not being an ectothermic species, most humans aren’t too worried about maximizing our heat absorption potential. I may prefer to stand in a patch of full sun in winter, wearing my dark splash pants, to try to keep warmer but I don’t spend much time trying to optimize my location.
I noticed, however, that the Jewelwings did. There was one leaf that the River Jewelwing was perched on that everyone else seemed to also want to bask on. Despite having the leaves of a whole huge Riverbank Grape Vine to choose from, everyone seemed to want this one leaf.
At various times, there were two Ebony Jewelwings, one River Jewelwing and one smaller duller damselfly all perched on the same leaf. While all of the damsels periodically took off or were forced into flight, the River and the others eventually all came back to this particular leaf, not the ones beside it or above or below it.
(Of course you know that was the leaf which I could not get a good angle on to take photos of the perched occupants, right? But I sincerely doubt it was my intrusive behavior that made that leaf so desirable.)
I wonder whether they can glance at a perch and decide unconsciously that it is an optimum location or if it actually takes some deliberate analysis?
Are There Any Other Black Winged Damselflies in Ontario?
Having found the Ebony and River Jewelwings, I felt a bit smug. Then I discovered there is another dark winged damsel found in Ontario—the Smoky Rubyspot.
The Smoky Rubyspot has a black abdomen, not electric blue or green. The males have a reddish patch at the base of the wings. The wings can be smoky black or nearly clear.
It barely comes into southern Ontario compared to the Jewelwings which come fairly far north and into Quebec and the Maritimes. So I may have a difficult time finding some of these. Still, it’s good to know there’ll be another day in the future when I see a type of dark-winged damsel for the first time!
- What Bronze and Green Damselfly Has Wings that Are Partly Red and Partly Clear?
- Painted Skimmer Dragonflies
- Dragons in My Back Yard
Have you seen Ebony or River Jewelwings on a stroll near your local stream? Please share your sighting with a comment.