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Dragonflies Take to the Air

Beauty of the sky a beast in the water

The common green darner dragonfly.

Dragonflies zoom and hover in the August air.
    These acrobatic fliers older than dinosaurs have populated the earth for more than 300 million years. They spend just a few months performing aerial feats of wonder after emerging from an underwater childhood lasting as long as four years.
    Female dragonflies lay their eggs in fresh water; the presence of dragonfly nymphs is an indicator of good water quality. The nymph looks nothing like the pretty fliers we love. It resembles an alien with large protruding jaws and segmented legs with claws.
    In air or water, dragonflies are merciless predators.
    As aquatic insects, they use their unique lower lip to engulf prey, even small fish. The lip’s elbow-like hinge allows it to bend so that the nymph can hold its prey while also holding fast to the stream bottom.
    The mature nymph swims to the surface, anchoring to a stem or root before metamorphosis. Unlike moths and butterflies, they need no cocoon in this stage.
    The transformed dragonfly is omnivorous, eating almost any other insect it can get its legs on, including other dragonflies and large butterflies as well as mosquitos.
    Maryland’s seven varieties are now buzzing around meadows and fields at an astonishing rate. ­Estimated to fly at speeds of 19 to 38 miles an hour, they are among the world’s fastest insects.
    From year to year, we may see any of the seven, from common blue dashers to green darners to dragon hunters. “Locally, some areas may show annual changes in the numbers of individuals within a specific species,” says Richard Orr, a state entomologist.
    The arrival of dragonflies coincides with blossoming corn, giving these insects a place in the mythology of native peoples. The Zuni tribe believes dragonflies bring blessings for fertile corn crops. The Hopi believe that dragonflies have the power to restore a poor corn crop and that their song warns of nearby danger. The Swiss believe that dragonflies came to earth to judge and retrieve bad souls. In Japan, dragonflies signify success in battle, and warriors adorned themselves with images of the insect to bring good fortune.
    While their time in the air may be brief, these winged warriors will make the most of the vanishing days of summer.