Syrian demoiselle (Calopteryx syriaca)

Synonyms: Calopteryx splendens pseudosyriaca, Calopteryx splendens syriaca
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumArthropoda
ClassInsecta
OrderOdonata
FamilyCalopterygidae
GenusCalopteryx (1)

The Syrian demoiselle is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The Syrian demoiselle (Calopteryx syriaca), a rare member of the broad-winged damselflies of the family Calopterygidae, closely resembles the banded demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) and has been regarded at times as a subspecies of the latter (1). Like the banded demoiselle, the male Syrian demoiselle has a metallic bluish-green body, while females are metallic green (2). 

Damselflies and dragonflies are recognised by their long, slender abdomen, short antennae, long, heavily veined wings and large globular eyes, which often make up a large portion of the head (3). Apart from their smaller size and generally more slender build, the easiest way to distinguish damselflies from dragonflies is the position of the wings when the insect is resting. Dragonflies rest with both pairs of wings held perpendicular to the body, whereas damselflies hold them almost parallel (4).

The Syrian demoiselle has a very restricted distribution within Syria, Jordan, Israel, Palestine and Lebanon, where it is found along the upper courses of the Orontes, Litani and Jordan rivers. It is thought to now be extinct around the Dead Sea Valley, while former records of this species in Egypt and Turkey were misidentifications (1). 

Although generally inhabiting rivers with a continual flow of water, the Syrian demoiselle may also be found on temporary coastal rivers with riparian vegetation (1). 

Damselflies and dragonflies spend the greater part of their lives as larvae, sometimes for as much as three years. The larvae are predatory hunters, feeding on other water creatures that also lurk amongst the waterweed. The larvae pass through a series of developmental stages or ‘stadia’, undergoing several moults as they grow. This larval period can last for anything between three months and ten years, depending on the species (4). 

Before the final moult, metamorphosis occurs, in which the larvae transform into the adult form. When ready to emerge, the larva climbs up a plant stem and out of the water. Once the larva’s outer case has dried and split, the adult damselfly frees itself from the skin by arching its body backwards. Once free, the adult pumps blood into its wing veins until the wings are fully expanded. The adult damselflies then undergo a pre-reproductive phase known as the maturation period, when individuals normally develop their full adult colour (4). 

Almost one-fifth of all dragonfly species occurring in the Mediterranean region are threatened with extinction, while many more are considered to be Near Threatened (5). One such threatened species, the Syrian demoiselle, is endangered by habitat loss. The first signs of declines in its populations were observed in 1980, and its populations are suspected to have declined by at least 50 percent in the last decade alone (1). 

The main threat to the Syrian demoiselle, along with many other species of damselfly and dragonfly in the Mediterranean region, is the destruction, degradation, pollution and mismanagement of water bodies (1) (5). Water engineering in particular has irreversibly changed and destroyed many freshwater habitats (1). It has also become clear that global climate change will be one of the greatest threats to damselflies and dragonflies, as the increased frequency of droughts will cause greater water demand, resulting in the drying out of many freshwater habitats on which these insects depend (5).  

Threatened damselflies and dragonflies in the Mediterranean region, such as the Syrian demoiselle, require urgent action to improve their conservation status. While some species are already receiving conservation attention thanks to international laws, many others are not (5). 

Priorities for the conservation of these vulnerable insects include addressing the threats of freshwater habitat destruction and degradation, as well as improving population monitoring and surveying (5). In addition, there is an urgent need to create an inventory of the most important freshwater habitats in the region, with an evaluation of their condition and the designation of protected areas (6). 

Find out more about dragonflies and damselflies and their conservation:

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  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. National Museums Northern Ireland: Habitas - Banded demoiselle (May, 2011)
    http://www.habitas.org.uk/dragonflyireland/5617.htm
  3. Moore, N.W. (1997) Dragonflies: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Odonata Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Available at:
    http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/1997-042.pdf
  4. O'Toole, C. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Insects and their Allies. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Riservato, E. et al. (2009). The Status and Distribution of Dragonflies of the Mediterranean Basin. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Malaga, Spain.
  6. Schneider, W. (2004) Critical species of Odonata in the Levant. International Journal of Odonatology, 7: 399-407.