Dragonfly and Damselfly Nymphs. Monsters in Shrimp Tanks. Treatment

Dragonfly and Damselfly Nymphs. Monsters in Shrimp Tanks

Dragonflies and damselflies have been here for over 300 million years (even before the dinosaurs even existed!). About 3012 species of dragonflies only were known in 2010. They come in many shapes and sizes but they are all predatory. These are like the sharks of the insect world. They are extremely adaptable to survive in the sky and underwater. Everyone knows the colorful adult dragonflies. However, few people know that 95% of their life cycle they spend underwater as dragonfly nymphs or naiads.

All dragonfly nymphs are fierce and voracious predators. They kill and eat any animal that they can catch including shrimp and fish of their size. Once dragonfly nymphs are in your aquarium they will start hunting non-stop until you deal with them. In some cases, they can even force to restart the aquarium.

I know that some shrimp breeders lost whole shrimp colonies because of these killing machines. So today I will tell you everything you need to know about them.

Quick Stats 

Name Dragonfly
Life span Up to 5-7 years (from the egg stage)
Scientific name Anisoptera
Size (adult dragonfly) vary between 3 – 10 cm (1.2 – 3.9 inches)
Size (dragonfly nymph) between 1.5 – 6,5 cm(0.6 – 2.7 inches)Dragonfly nymph
Eggs From hundreds to as many as 1500 eggs originally hatched


Name Damselfly 
Life span Up to 5-7 years (from the egg stage)
Scientific name Zygoptera
Size (adult damselfly ) vary between 2 cm to 8 cm (0.8 – 3.2 inches)
Size (damselfly nymph) between 1.5 – 3 cm (0.6 – 1.2 inches)

damselfy nymph

Eggs From hundreds to as many as 1500 eggs originally hatched

Both species are voracious predators. 

Why are they called Dragonflies?

It is possible that the earliest reference to the name is from Francis Bacon’s “Sylva Sylvarum: or a Natural Historie in Ten Centuries.” It was published in 1626, where he first used the common name “Dragon-fly”.

At a guess, Bacon had picked up on a common, folklore name in use at the time. Prior to this date (and since), many different vernacular names have been used. Some are Adder Bolt, Snake Doctor, Devil’s Riding Horse, Horse Stinger, and Devil’s Darning Needle.

The Life cycle of the Dragonfly Nymphs

Dragonflies and damselflies have three stages to their life.
Note: The length of each stage depends on the species of dragonfly. 

  • Adult stage.

After the final molt from nymph to adult, occurring in late spring or early summer in temperate regions and at any time of the year in tropical regions, most dragonfly species spend the next month fully maturing.

Their gonads (sex organs) finish developing, their color becomes brighter with their final markings emerging and they disperse, sometimes hundreds of miles, from the pond or marsh where they developed.
Obviously, we are not very interested here in the adult stage.

  • Egg stage.

Some damselflies and dragonflies females will settle on vegetation and insert eggs into stalks of the plants (endophytic eggs) and other material in or near the water. There are also dragonflies that usually fly across the water dipping the end of their abdomens into the water and releasing eggs.

These eggs (exophytic eggs) are covered with a jelly-like substance and can stick to vegetation or the bottom of the pond. Depending on the species, a female can lay hundreds or thousands of eggs during her lifespan.

  • Nymph stage.

When dragonflies hatch (~1 mm in size) they are called nymphs. Dragonfly nymphs are voracious predators that have no resemblance to their adult forms. They molt up to 12 – 17 times, depending on the species, and can spend as long as 4-5 years as nymphs.

During the nymph stage, they are very elusive. The dragonfly nymphs can survive months in the aquarium without detection. In most cases, the first time people find out about them when the population of the shrimp (or small fish) colony starts decreasing without any obvious reason.

What is the Difference between Dragonfly and Damselfly Nymphs?

Blue-tailed_damselfly_(Ischnura_elegans)_nymph small big (2)Damselfly nymphs have elegant gill appendages trailing off the back of the abdomen. They are smaller and slender compared to dragonfly nymphs.

Damselfly gills are located at the end of the abdomen. The head is wider than the thorax and the abdomen. Damselfly nymphs swim by undulating their bodies.

In addition, because of their size, they are not the best fish hunters, although dwarf shrimp will be in danger anyway. Eggs of a damselfly are cylindrical.

The size of the damselfly nymphs varies among the species from 15 mm to about 30 mm (about 0,5-1,2 inches).

Dragonfly nymph bigDragonfly nymphs are much more predatory and much bigger. They are a real threat to shrimp, small fish, snails, and fry. They also look very different from damselfly larvae.

Dragonfly Nymphs are bulkier and stout. In addition, they have gills at the base of their rectum and breathe through their bottom. Dragonfly nymphs pull water into their rectums to breathe.

When the hungry nymph is on the rampage this vent turns into hydro jet rapid contractions force water backward and propel the hunter forwards. The eggs of the dragonfly are round.

Their size can be from 15 mm to about 64 mm (nearly 2.5 inches).

How do I know that there are dragonfly or damselfly nymphs in the aquarium?

As I have already said, in most cases, the first time people find out about them when the population of the shrimp (or small fish) colony starts decreasing without any obvious reason. Thus, the first sign is the decreasing population of your aquarium inhabitants.

Another indication would be that both the small shrimps and fish are showing signs of stress. They are aware that there are predators in there with them.

Interesting fact: Did you know that dragonfly nymphs can also be stressed?

Biologists at the University of Toronto placed dragonfly nymphs and their predatory fish together in aquarium tanks.

The two were separated so that although the dragonflies could see and smell their predators, the fish could not actually reach or eat the dragonflies. “What we found was unexpected — more of the dragonflies died when predators shared their habitat,” study researcher Locke Rowe, chairman of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the university, said in a statement. The survival rates were 2.5 to 4.3 times lower than those that had not been exposed to either stressor.

Hunting styles of dragonfly and damselfly nymphs 

Their hunting methods can vary. Although some nymphs are active hunters. They use their camouflage and move slowly to be as inconspicuous. In addition, they can hunt even in complete darkness using their antennae and long legs to detect pressure waves.

dragonfly nymph catch fishHowever, most are sedentary, spending their time buried in mud or hiding in algae mats or other vegetation. The skimmers and green darners are mostly hide-and-ambush predators.

Clubtails, however, are burrowers, and when placed into the aquarium with mud or sand bottom will spend much of the time hidden from sight. Obviously, this makes them harder to observe and more difficult to catch.

Dragonfly nymph types of jaws The nymphs catch their prey using highly modified lower lips, known as a labium. Which they can thrust forward in less than 20 milliseconds to grab a passing shrimp, tadpole, or small fish. Nymphs contract their abdomen inside the water pressure builds, launching the jaw forwards. This lower lip is equipped with 2 pairs of needle-sharp pinchers and can be fully extended up to few centimeters. When they are fully grown, they are capable of catching and killing fish as big as they are.

Dragonfly Nymphs eating rateNote: dragonfly or damselfly nymphs are carnivorous hunters from the start. According to the study, it was observed that nymph of 14 and 16mm size consume more than 100 mosquito larvae, between inter-molt stages. The predation rate of the nymph increases along with the size of the nymph. (*Laboratory studies on the predatory potential of dragon-fly nymphs on mosquito larvae. Article in The Journal of communicable diseases. July 2003)

Dragonfly Nymphs stage in the Shrimp tank

Depending on the species, dragonfly and damselfly nymphs molt between 9 and 17 times as they grow and develop. However, the climate (the temperature) plays a huge role here.

In warmer climates, the nymph stage can last only a month or two, with the nymph growing very fast. Under colder temperatures, dragonfly nymphs may stay in the larval stage up to 4-5 years.

During the final nymph stage, it starts to develop the adult wings, although they remain tucked inside wing pads. The closer to adulthood the nymph is, the fuller the wing pads appear. When it is finally ready, the larva crawls out of the water for its last molt.

When it is near its final transformation an intricate system of cubes within its body will have to transition from getting oxygen from its gills to breathing air.

type dragonfly and damselfly nymphs

How can Dragonfly or Damselfly Nymphs Get in the Shrimp Tank?

They get into the aquarium in three main ways:

  1. Hitchhiking on plants (inside the stems of an aquatic plant or hidden inside the foliage of a plant).
  2. This predator might also be accidentally introduced along with mosquito larvae, daphnia, or some other wild-caught live-food item.
  3. Because there was no lid on the tank and the dragonfly would have just dropped her eggs into the tank.

Related article:

How to Prevent Them from Getting into the Shrimp Tank

There are simple rules, which can help you:

  1. Do not feed your shrimp and fish with self-collected live food. It is not a good idea unless, for some weird reason, you want to risk adding parasites and predators in your aquarium. At least, use great caution when collecting live food items such as daphnia or mosquito larvae from a naturally occurring body of water.
  2. Always quarantine any new plants (read my detailed article about it). If insects laid their eggs on the plants, then you can unwillingly get them into the aquarium. Carefully inspect everything.
  3. Close the aquarium or put fine netting over your aquarium if there is a chance of getting parasites, in the place you live in.

The ability of nymphs to survive without food for many days and weeks in addition to their ability to hide makes it very hard to prevent them from getting into our aquariums.

How to Treat Dragonfly or Damselfly Nymphs

Well, I tried my best to get all the methods that can kill these monsters. Unfortunately, they are very hardy! Almost everything that can kill them will also kill shrimp and fish. 

That is why some (most) of these methods cannot be used in shrimp or fish aquariums. Nonetheless, I will describe them anyway. Some shrimp and fish breeders say that this is the war that you cannot win (at least you cannot be 100% sure). Thus they advise restarting the tank and wipe out everything there.

If you do have some working methods to fight off these monsters, please, share them with us.

  • Manual removal and siphoning of the tank

The best way to kill them is to grab dragonfly or damselfly nymphs with the net and remove them as you see them. You can also do a gravel vacuum and suck them out with a siphon. Keep monitoring for any new hatch and remove them as you see them again.

Unfortunately, you will never know how many of them are already in the aquarium.  They are masters of disguise. It is hard to spot them. They will usually just remain still. That is why you need to shake/agitate the plants with a net or something.

Note: Unless you treat the plants beforehand, there is always a chance that the plants are still “infected” with the eggs.

  • Salt method

Most newly acquired plants you can dip in a saltwater solution for 20-30 seconds to kill/remove nymphs (1 cup of salt to 1 gallon / 3.8 liters of water).

Tip: A safer and more gentle alternative may be to let the plants sit in a covered container with no water. Many plants can survive outside of the water for extended periods as long as the air is humid. However, the dragonflies need water to breathe and will move to the base of the plant and then the container itself in search of water. Unfortunately, it will not work against eggs.

  • Chitin Inhibitor Medicine

You can treat the tank with chemicals like Chitin inhibitor.  It prevents the dragonfly and damselfly nymphs from being able to molt properly and then they die.
Regrettably, all your dwarf shrimp will die as well. Unacceptable.

  • Copper treatment

If you do not have shrimp and snails in the tank. It will wipe out every single nymph.
There was a study about Differential Toxicity to Cd, Pb, and Cu in Dragonfly Larvae (Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 56(1):77-84 · April 2008)

According to the results, “Larvae were tolerant of high concentrations of cadmium and lead, as no significant decrease in survival was observed at exposures as high as 0.893 and 2.232 mM, respectively. In contrast, larvae were more sensitive to copper exposure, demonstrating significantly decreased survival to exposures as low as 2.360 μm”.

Now, let’s convert 2.360 μm to mL. Correct me if I am wrong.
2.360 μm multiple with the Molecular weight of CuSO4 (159-249) and divid the resulted number /1000
2.360*159 (to 249)/1000 = from 0,375mL to 0,587 mL

Note: In one of my articles I refer to CuSO4 (Copper sulphate) as the treatment against Vorticella. The dangerous level of copper for dwarf shrimps starts from 0.03 mg per liter.

According to another study Copper intoxication in tropical freshwater prawn (International Journal of Engineering and Innovative Technology. Volume 3, Issue 5, November, 2013). The survival of prawns exposed to more than 0.20 mgL of Cu2+  was significantly reduced.
In any case, dragonfly and damselfly nymphs are way tougher than shrimp or fish. The copper concentration should be high enough.

You can read more about “How Copper Affects Dwarf Shrimp” right here.

  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Overdose

If there are no inhabitants in the tank, add CO2 with heavily overdose to decrease the level of oxygen in the tank.
Note: A CO2 content of 30 parts per million (ppm) or milligrams per liter (mg/l) is safe for most fish and inverts. 200-500 ppm is the range of toxicity for aquatic plants.

Read more about it in my article “CO2 in a Shrimp Tank”.

  • Snail-killing potions

Snail-killing potions are often recommended as good ways to kill invertebrates attached to plants (during disinfection and/or quarantine). Used as a dip for 10-20 minutes they will remove snails from store-bought plants, and usually remove Hydra too.

  • High-Temperature Method

I read on the Internet forum that high-temperature methods can also kill Dragonfly or Damselfly Nymphs. In order to do so, you need to set the temperature in your aquarium to 83 degrees F (~28,5C) constant for a few days.

I did my research about it and I found that there was also a study about the thermal tolerance of dragonfly nymphs. They tested several types of Dragonfly Nymphs.

Unfortunately, the results show that they have great resistance to high temperatures. Higher temperatures will allow body processes to happen faster. High temperatures will thus allow an animal to have the ability to metabolize faster, but only to a certain degree before the heat kills them at the critical thermal maximum.

Critical thermal maximum is the temperature at which dragonfly nymphs are unable to adaptively respond to stimulation. They are disoriented and lack coordinated locomotory behavior. In this state, they cannot escape from conditions that, if continued, will lead to death.

Lethal temperature is the temperature at which all body movements cease because of death.

Temperature affect on Dragonfly nymph data

Thermal Tolerance of Dragonfly Nymphs. II. Comparison of Nymphs from Control and Thermally Altered Environments.  Physiological Zoology. C. T. Garten, Jr. and J. B. Gentry Vol. 49, No. 2 (Apr., 1976), pp. 206-213 (8 pages)

As we can see the result of the study is different from the results of the hobby-aquarist. You need to set the temperature in your aquarium to 38 – 43 degrees C (~100-109 F) to get at least a critical thermal maximum.

In any case, unless you have Sulawesi shrimp even 83F (~28,5C) will be very dangerous for your neocaridina and caridina shrimp.

  • Sudden Drop of Water Temperature

This is another method from one of the shrimp breeders.  You need to do a 50 % water change with a sudden drop in water temperature (~5-7 C). The sudden drop in water temperature can cause the shrimps to feel stressed (pale, motionless or going crazy swimming at the top of the water).

Nonetheless, it will also stress damselfly or dragonfly nymphs. They will get out of their hiding places and you can catch them.

NoteBig water changes can also cause molting issues for your shrimp.

Do Dragonfly Nymphs have enemies in the shrimp aquarium?

Well, no. They do not have enemies in the shrimp aquarium.

Of course, any big adult fish like Golden fish, Betta, etc. will eat them gladly. As I mention in my article about Сherry Shrimp in a Community Tank. Tips to Make it Successful” some people manage to keep shrimp with big fish. But this is an exception.

Other archenemies of the Dragonfly Nymphs are Waterbugs (Diving beetles). They will deal with nymphs as well. Unfortunately, if they can overpower the dragonfly nymphs, any shrimp will be a piece of cake for them.
Eventually, as we can see, nymphs will rule in shrimp tank unconditionally.

Do Dragonfly Nymphs Bite or Sting?

They do not sting (there is no poison). They can only bite the prey.


Dragonfly nymphs are born hunting machines. They are well-armored, patient, tough, quick with strong grasping forelimbs. All in all, they are really formidable little aquatic monsters and they stay that way for life. Basically, they do not need anything but to hunt and kill in our tanks.

It looks like they eat anything that they can catch, any dwarf shrimp, snails,  small fish, little frogs, tadpoles, baby turtles, worms,  and even other dragonfly nymphs are all on the menu. And what is most dangerous about them is that they can live for years! 

Read also my article “Understanding Dwarf Shrimp Diseases and Parasites”.


15 thoughts on “Dragonfly and Damselfly Nymphs. Monsters in Shrimp Tanks. Treatment

  1. I have been bitten by dragonfly nymphs several times and it is a real ‘nip’ enough to make you remove your hand very quickly.

    I cannot remember what I was searching for at the time, possibly frogs spawn, a local pond was being filled so I collected frogs spawn and it thrives in my small rubber lined ponds, I have cheap goldfish who eat the tadpoles in one pond and the nymphs eat tadpoles in the other, the 3rd pond this year has a mass of water boatmen and seem to thrive.

  2. I wonder if Trichlorfon will work to kill damselfly nymph? Fish only no shrimp.

    1. Hi Kampua,
      Personally, I have not tried it.
      It would be really nice to hear if somebody has done it.
      Best regards,

      1. I found a damselfly nymph in my 60L nano community/shrimp tank last night after becoming suspicious that I was seeing fewer of my tangerine tigers. It got away, so today I started pulling down the hardscape, removing my shrimp (about 30% had already become lunch), and setting up a temp tank. Tomorrow I’m nuking with CO2 (via Sodastream water) to be sure that I get it and any others.

        I’ve already used this pure soda water + alum to sterilize other plants (red root floaters – sealed in with the CO2 gas bubbles) and so long as the CO2 was only used under good lighting and removed by night, they had no problem with it. Here’s hoping that my amazon sword, vallisnaria and lotus do as well (though it won’t be 100% soda water).

        Fingers crossed!

        1. Hi Glen.
          I’m sorry to hear that. Damselfly nymphs indeed pose a significant threat to shrimp.
          It’s challenging to find methods to combat them without harming the shrimp. I’m curious to hear about the outcome of your battle and how everything goes. Good luck with it!
          Best regards,

  3. I was thinking about getting a nano cube and setting up a tiny planted tank for a dragonfly nymph (I work at a fish store so there is a constant supply being netted off plants), do you think they would accept pellets or freeze-dried food such as shrimp and daphnia? I’m squeamish about feeding live.

  4. I can’t believe you are killing dragonfly and damselfly nymphs. Like most flying insects these creatures are strugggling to survive with habitat destruction, pollution etc. If you have a body of water suitable for them to survive in the adults will be laying eggs directly – you should be pleased because it shows your water quality is good.

    1. Hi Ruth Arundell,
      I hope you are joking right?
      They survived dinosaurs and my bet is that they will survive homo sapiens as well.
      Best regards,

    2. I just don’t want them in my room or killing my livestock.

  5. Thank you for this article. I have some questions, hope you don’t mind…

    Regarding to the salt method, do I need to rinse it after dipping it to the salt water.

    Regarding to the CO2 method, how long do I keep dosing it. Also, is this method will kill the eggs as well?

    1. Hi Nguyen,
      Yes. I forgot to mention it but rinsing should be done every time you treat your plants with something.
      In addition, it may help you to get rid of detritus, pests, etc. that could stuck in foliage.
      Unfortunately, CO2 will not work against the dragonfly eggs.
      One day of heavily overdosing CO2 should be enough to shock or even kill these monsters.
      I hope it will help you.
      Do you have them in the tank? Let me know how it goes, please.
      Best regards,

  6. Hey michael.. I saw the nymph killing my 15 mm (length) cherry shrimp , tearing the body in half in front of my eyes … I was like crying for this.. I searched the internet for the solution.. I successfully got my shrimps out of that tank. But can’t break the scape out. If i add mollies to the tank , will they help eat these monsters.?

    1. Hi Biswa,
      It’s unfortunate to hear that. Dragonfly nymphs can be a big problem for shrimp. As for using fish against them, in theory, mollies should eat them. However, the question is how long it will take since they are very good at hiding and can sit motionless for days! Therefore, it’s impossible to guarantee complete eradication of them. If you’ve already relocated the shrimp, I would suggest first doing a CO2 overdose along with a sudden temperature drop. Only then, when the water parameters have stabilized, add fish as an additional way to combat these parasites.
      Best regards,

  7. Hi
    For the past month I have been raising what I believe to be a blue damsel nymph. When I first discovered her she was very small but grew quickly to approximately 3cm. She was active in the tank which was similar to the pond she was found in. The tank was oxygenated with live plants and a bubbler. I fed her blood worms, earth worms and other small swimming insects. She ate all she encountered with enthusiasm. Then I returned home today and found her dead. What did I do wrong? Why would she suddenly die? I thought they were hardy creatures and even though they are described as “monsters “ I feel badly about her death. If anyone could offer a theory as to her sudden demise. I would grateful.

    1. Hi Michelle McKee,
      Sorry to hear that.
      As for your question, yes, dragonfly nymphs are indeed resilient and very hardy creatures. However, they are living beings that must go through a complex growth process that involves molting.
      It is during this time that something can go wrong. If the old exoskeleton is not shed properly or is only partially shed, it can lead to unfortunate consequences. I believe that might be what happened in your situation.
      Best regards,

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