Dragonflies… Our Guardians Against Mosquitoes And Other Pests.

The sound of crinkled cellophane fills the air in mid May as thousands of dragonflies emerge from local ponds and congregate in our yards. The gold wing skimmer seems to be the most common. I enjoy watching them and get pleasure out of knowing that the one that just dove in at me is leaving with a mosquito snack.

Although many species of dragonfly are in danger of extinction, due to man made changes to wetlands, some are actually benefiting from the lakes, ponds, canals and wet ditches that we make. Areas that fill with water for a few weeks, although not absolutely necessary for dragonflies, don’t have large fish in them that eat dragonfly larva or those of amphibians. These “seasonal wetlands “are great places for our native frogs and toads to breed in too for that reason. You can make your pond, lake, canal or the occasionally wet portion of your yard into a haven for wildlife, including dragonflies. Plant cypress trees along the edge and fill in with bulrush, pickerelweed, cord grass and other native vegetation for cover.

Female dragonflies lay their eggs in the soil or in plant tissue along the pond edge or in floating algae mats. They will also slowly drop them into the water or drop them while racing along the surface. Too much algae which is fed by the runoff of over fertilized lawns covers beneficial submerged plants that provide dragonfly larval habitat.

The dragonfly larva develops underwater and eats tadpoles, small fish, and mosquito larvae. It then climbs out of the water onto an emergent plant where it sheds its larval skin, pumps out its wings and dries them. A speed boat going by at this time can knock them into the water where they will drown. Muscovy ducks can also be a problem by eating the vulnerable emergents.

Most dragonflies are local, yet some of them migrate. Certain landscape features concentrate these migrants into dense swarms which are exceptional during the more populated fall migration. September is the best time to see these southbound migrations following the coast line.

Next time you see dragonflies in your yard, it might be fun to learn their names and watch for interesting behavior. The 1.7 inch eastern pondhawk, the male is light chalky blue and the female is green, may be following you and snapping up prey that you frighten into the open. Two males will cartwheel as they change leaders 12 to 14 times while rising vertically into the air.

I recommend Dragonflies through Binoculars by Sidney W. Dunkle. This book has excellent pictures and great information. Learning dragonflies is just another way to enjoy nature watching and is very exciting when you find rare ones in your own yard.