Dragonflies are beautiful flying insects of the Odonata order that have been on our planet for a very long time providing us visual beauty and indirect physical benefits. Fossils of large dragonflies with 30 inch wingspans have been found dating back millions of years and artistic depictions of these jeweled insects have been uncovered at many archaeological sites around the world. Some ancient cultures perceived the dragonfly as a symbol of transformation and hope, perhaps because these cultures were very attuned to nature and witnessed the larva leaving the water, shedding its shell and becoming a magnificent winged being. Today, many therapeutic and coaching businesses incorporate the dragonfly in their logo as a symbolic expression of their transformative services.
Not only are dragonflies desirable for the beauty and comforting symbolism they bring to our outdoor spaces, they are also desirable for their predatory skills, notably for catching those insects that “bug” us such as gnats, flies and mosquitoes! Dragonflies often capture their prey while in flight as they have the ability to fly in almost any direction and can hover in place for minutes. Of course, their eyesight is exquisite considering their entire head is made up of eyes that allow them to see at every angle except, perhaps, directly behind them.
According to an Oxford University published study of dragonflies in captivity, these hawk-like insects have close to a 95% capture success rate. It is believed they have the ability to anticipate the flight path of their prey and, with their agile maneuvers and keen eyesight, can intercept a moth or mosquito before it even senses danger is near.
The scientific order that dragonflies belong to, Odonata, translates in Greek as “toothed one” and signifies the strong jaws of these insects. Incidentally, it is not 100% known why these insects took on the name “dragon” fly, but likely it relates to myths and folklore of the middle ages coupled with a dragonfly’s predatory ferociousness. Oftentimes dragonflies will take on prey near their size, such as moths and, unfortunately, other dragonflies. And, when not pursuing insects for food, territorial male dragonflies are likely chasing insects of all sizes away from their chosen hovering/mating space.
Interestingly, like most bird species, the female may be slightly duller in brilliance than the male dragonfly (see the photos of the Flame Skimmers below.) However, sometimes you’ll find the female is just as brilliant but of an entirely different color scheme (compare blue-eyed male and red-eyed female blue dashers above.) Speaking of the sexes, dragonflies can mate in flight and once done, the eggs are deposited in fresh waterways. There, the larva may live up to 2 years before they crawl out, shed and become transformed. Compared to its time spent in larval stage, a dragonfly’s days in flight may be quite numbered – some living for only a week to some species living for almost a year. Due to this short period of adulthood, another mantra attributed to the dragonfly is “live for today”.
Shimmering and colorful dragonflies can be found on every continent of earth with the exception of Antarctica. Most prefer lower altitudes and warmer climates but on the contrary, some species are found in the high altitudes of the Rocky Mountains and in the cold climate of Iceland, possibly riding in on warm wind currents as some dragonflies are known to migrate.
Personally, I can attest the summer of 2019 in Texas has been exceptionally abundant with dragonflies (and damselflies – a different “suborder” of flying insects that are slimmer and hold their wings parallel to their bodies). I am fortunate to have seen many varieties this year in my own suburban backyard. In addition to those depicted in this post, just yesterday for the first time I saw a bright green female Eastern Pondhawk on my wrought iron arbor, but it would not pose still for me as did the others.
Until next time, may you, too, enjoy the beauty and benefits of these flying wonders in your part of the world.