The Odonata, dragonflies and damselflies, form a clade or group with common ancestors which have existed since the Triassic Era. When they flutter into your environment, you’ll know it is summer. The four wings, used independently, are iridescent and some have spots. Dragonflies are quick and nimble fliers. They can fly 100 body lengths per second. If flying backward it’s three body lengths per second. When at rest the wings are held flat and away from the body. A hovering position can be maintained for one minute.
The word Odonata is derived from the Greek word meaning “toothed.” Dragonflies have mandibles with teeth to crush their prey, but not sharp enough to break human skin. Huge eyes with 30,000 lenses are perfect for spying food and facilitating the success ratio of 90 to 95% capture of prey.
Items on the menu range from biting flies, butterflies, midges, moths, and mosquitoes, plus dragonflies. Yes, they’re cannibalistic. The insect is captured, then a chomp on the head, the wings are discarded and the insect is eaten head first, this is done in mid-air. The dragonfly can eat 30 to hundreds of mosquitoes in a day.
Enemies of the juvenile or larval stage dragonflies: are ducks, frogs, toads, fish, newts and larger insects. Some small meat-eating plants devour the “juvies” for vital nitrogen. The loss of wet lands is a huge problem for dragonflies in their long aquatic larval stage.
After the larvae morph into the adult dragonfly a new set of predators arise, birds, spiders, frogs, reptiles, and the water shrew. Adults or ‘on the wing’ dragonflies live only a few weeks or months.
Looking for a new hobby try ode or watching dragonflies and damselflies. Binoculars and an identification guide are helpful.
Native Americans have many uses for the dragonfly symbol: courage, happiness, healing, speed, water and purity … purity because the dragonfly “eats from the wind.” Many cultures consider the dragonfly as agents of change and self realization.
Albuquerque, New Mexico is home to the first dragonfly sanctuary pond in the United States. Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge also in New Mexico is home to over a hundred species of Odonata.
The photos are courtesy of Mary Rebecca Gracey an avid ode watcher who also knows her birds.
by Alfred Lord Tennyson
from “The Two Voices”
Today I saw the dragon-fly
Come from the wells where he did lie.
An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk: from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail.
He dried his wings: like gauze they grew;
Thro’ crofts and pastures wet with dew
A living flash of light he flew.