The odonata order of insects is split into two sub-orders, the Zygoptera (Damselflies) and Anisoptera (Dragonflies).
To separate the adult flying stage: Zygoptera have wings folded over back or partly open, Anisoptera hold wings open or drooped.

Coenagrion puella
Azure Damselfly
(wings folded over back)

Lestes sponsa
Emerald Damselfly
(wings partly open)

Orthetrum cancellatum
Black Tailed Skimmer
(drooped wings)

Aeshna mixta
Migrant Hawker
(wings open)

The life cycle is egg (usually laid in or near water), larvae (usually aquatic) and the adult flying stage.

Aquatic larvae
 of Common Darter Dragonfly -
Sympetrum striolatum

Exuvia of Common Darter Dragonfly
(skin left by emerging adult)

Adult Insect
Migrant Hawker - Aeshna Mixta
in flight

The larvae stage can be up to five years. Adult life expectancy is shorter, on average a few days or weeks, but individuals can live up to two months or more. The exception is Sympecma which hibernate overwinter as an adult.

Both larvae and adult are carnivorous, generalized feeders. They do not have a sting, as some people believe, and if they come to look at you it is probably out of curiosity. They will not harm you, and help control less people-friendly insects such as mosquitoes.

Common Darter - Sympetrum striolatum
pumping up wings and body having emerged from exuvia

Newly emerged dragonfly (teneral) - this individual a Common Darter Sympetrum striolatum, note the shiny wings

Larger larvae - Emperor - Anax imperator

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