If you’re out playing on our abundant lakes, hiking a nature trail nearby water, or out doing yard work this weekend, chances are you’ll be surrounded by darners and skimmers. As they dance in the air and hover about, a closer look will astound you with their flying prowess. Dragonflies are amazing insects.
With over 100 species found in our state, the opportunity to discover a new wonder is as close as your neighborhood wetlands. Dragonflies are the speedy fliers of our insect world, zooming as fast as 35 miles per hour and scooping up prey while in flight. Any small flying insect is a meal and dragonflies have earned the nickname mosquito hawk for good reason.
Dragonfly larvae also enjoy dining on mosquito larvae making this an enormously beneficial resident of ponds, swamps, and streams. Beginning life as an egg dropped into or laid nearby water, the nymph or larva appears quite fearsome and has a voracious appetite.
Dining on other small aquatics including minnows while in their larval form, all life stages of this insect are predatory. Several life stages occur while underwater before the creature emerges from the depths, climbs up into the air via a piece of vegetation and the winged adult breaks through. Once it crawls out of the exoskeleton of its youth, it pauses only until its outer form hardens and wings fully extend. From this point on, they own the sky.
From darners to clubtails, cruisers to skimmers, dragonflies boast remarkable variety in size, coloration, wing markings and more. Many of the wings have markings which become readily noticeable the more you observe the insect. Whether these are the small dark black spots or colorful, thin oval markings known as stigmata or the larger opaque patches covering sections of the clear wings, these basal wing markings and spots can help you figure out which species you’ve seen.
The glass-like wings are actually part of the dragonfly’s living body and are composed of cuticle similar to your fingernails. Sensitive hairs line the veined patterning of the wings and transmit sensory information as the insect soars and dives. Each of those four wings moves independently, allowing unrivaled flight capability as well as ease in flying backwards or hovering.
Just like our own homes, location is of the upmost importance and different species of dragonflies require specific habitat amenities. From clear bottomed lakes to still, dark waters, each has highly specific requirements. Why not take a look at who’s flying around the ponds and lakes you frequent and see if you’re able to identify several species?