Hot August weather. Wetlands, tadpoles, mosquitoes in abundance. Cattails and algae blooms. And of course, dragonflies!
There’s a good reason you find dragonflies near water. The eggs are laid on submerged plants, and hatch into an immature form called nymphs. Nymphs have gills on their posteriors, and use them for both breathing and as jet propulsion. Isn’t nature amazing? Dragonflies live most of their lives as nymphs. Finally, after six months to six years, depending on the species, the nymphs crawl out of the water and metamorphose into the familiar flying adults.
Many people believe that dragonflies can sting. That structure on the rear end of the male isn’t a stinger—it’s a clasper, used to hold onto the female during mating. Perhaps you’ve seen pairs of dragonflies joined together in flight. Once the adults have mated, the female lays her eggs. Then, after only a few weeks to a month or so of adulthood, they die.
Anything that is named after a dragon must be ferocious, and dragonflies certainly fit that description. They are well-equipped predators.
Dragonfly eyes contain about 30,000 lenses, and provide almost a 360º view of the world. That comes in handy when stalking dinner. (However, lest you feel inferior, humans can see details much more clearly than dragonflies can.)
In addition, the adults are strong fliers. Their four wings give them ample lift, and they can zoom after their prey at over 30 mph. One thing the adults do not do is walk. Their six legs are great for perching, but hiking is not an option.
The nymphs eat not only aquatic insects but tadpoles and small fish as well. They’re quite capable of capturing prey bigger than they are. At the same time, they need to avoid being eaten by fish or birds. The adults prey on flying insects. You’ll be glad to know that both life stages consume vast quantities of mosquitoes.
The big question is, do dragonflies bite people? Since I have never personally been accosted by a dragonfly, I referred my question to the experts. The answer is… maybe. Various scientists, who should know these things, confidently stated that adult dragonflies do not bite people. Various people, who should also know, confidently asserted that they themselves had been bitten. At least everyone agreed on one thing: nymphs can inflict a painful bite. Keep that in mind next time you decide to go swimming in a stagnant pond.
Dragonflies are found all over the world, except at the poles. Most species are tropical, 450 species live in the United States. The biggest living dragonflies are found in Costa Rica; their wings reach seven and a half inches across. While that’s plenty impressive, those that hung around with the dinosaurs left behind fossils showing a wingspan of two and a half feet!
Dragonfly watching is a growing hobby. Frequently, the ranks of dragonfly spotters started out as birdwatchers. Once they ran out of new birds to count, they switched to another flying creature.
I do not intend to take up this pastime, no matter how interesting. For one, dragonflies are found in the same sorts of places as mosquitoes, and I do not like mosquitoes (this is because they sure love me!). Also, I found it extremely difficult to identify any dragonflies I saw. If you can tell me what species I’ve captured in my photos here, I’d be delighted (it was at Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge, in Mississippi). And finally, you can’t go “dragonflying” in the winter. The ponds are frozen. What am I supposed to do then, stay indoors? No thanks. I’ll stick to birds.