>> Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I love watching these graceful and beautiful beneficial creatures. We have a canal system near by and are visited by dragonflies all Summer long. I have made plans to add a small water feature this summer - it won’t ever be confused with being a pond, but it will attract a wider variety of wildlife than we already have, and the dragonfly will be one of those.

We love watching the hummingbirds, dragonflies, flickers, robins, finches, chick-a-dees, bees, mantids all flying about. Everyday during warm Summer months, at about 5 p.m., we get a lot of dragonflies in our garden beds. They stay for an hour or two and then fly away.

Most dragonflies need sunlight to fly, and will land even if the sun goes behind a cloud only very briefly. They are closely related to damselflies, which are smaller and which hold their wings above their bodies while resting (whereas the dragonfly holds his wings spread while resting).

Dragonflies are water creatures for the first part of their lives, living in the water 1-3 years, depending on their type and size. They are carnivores and will eat anything they can find, including mosquito larvae, small water creatures, and even each other.  The process of morphing into an adult dragonfly is fascinating, with the nymph climbing from the water, his armor splitting, and his crumpled wings emerging and hardening in the sunlight.  He finally flies off, leaving a brown translucent shell behind.

There are about 500 species of dragonfly in North America. They have legs, mainly for clinging and climbing, but they never actually walk. In the air, they can dive like an airplane or hover like a helicopter. They are very quick and often zero in and catch prey in mid-air.

Some species have very colorful names, such as, dragonhunter, jewelwing, pondhawk, and blue dasher and as far as I’m concerned they are deserving given their beauty and their aerial prowess. With two pairs of wings and an aerodynamic shape, they can reach speeds of 20 miles per hour, and even fly backwards.

Their excellent eyesight and aerial agility allow them to capture and consume most insects smaller than themselves. Damselflies consume gnats and midges, while dragonflies eat beetles, moths, and mosquitoes. Larvae, called nymphs, dine on aquatic invertebrates, including large numbers of mosquito larvae, which makes them a welcome addition to any garden. Larger nymphs can even capture prey as big as tadpoles and small fish.

Here’s how to make your yard dragonfly-friendly:
  • Provide water. Ponds and other water features provide a place for dragonflies and damselflies to lay their eggs, a habitat for their aquatic larvae, and a spot to hunt for food. Even the smallest backyard pond will attract these beautiful insects if you create it with their needs in mind.
  • Supply vegetation. Although they are strictly carnivorous, dragonflies and damselflies need vegetation both in and around the pond. Males perch on the ends of rushes and on wetland shrubs to look for mates. Females often lay eggs on the leaves of water lilies and other floating plants. Both sexes regulate body temperature by basking on vegetation to warm up or hiding in the shade to cool down.
  • Select the right plants. Dragonflies and damselflies are not picky, so any native aquatic or wetland vegetation will work. Plants that will thrive in your pond include bulrush, pickerelweed, cattail, and water lily. For spots around the pond, consider blue flag iris, cardinal flower, red-twig dogwood, summersweet, and winterberry holly.
  • Keep it messy. An overly tidy pond isn’t ideal. Let some dead leaves and debris accumulate in the bottom of your pond to give nymphs a place to escape from predators and wait for prey. When it’s time to complete their metamorphosis, the nymphs climb onto the stem of an aquatic plant, shed their larval skin, and emerge as winged adults. You can add a small tree branch for additional underwater cover. Try half-submerging it so adults can use the section above the surface as a perch.
  • Go organic. Broad-spectrum insecticides kill dragonflies,  damselflies, and their larvae.

Did you know?
• Dragonflies have been around for hundreds of millions of years. There were dragonflies with 2-foot wingspans flying around with the dinosaurs.
• When we hear about seasonal migration, most of us think of birds heading south for the winter. But did you know that some dragonflies also migrate? Certain species travel from the northern United States and Canada to the southern United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
• There are a lot of myths about dragonflies and damselflies, including the story that they’ll sew your eyes shut with their needle-like bodies. This idea earned them the nickname “devil’s darning needles.” Luckily, this is just a myth; these insects are totally harmless to people.


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