A Glorious Insect

September 4, 9:30 am

It is a clear warm morning and I am walking along Davis Creek, listening for any unusual sounds, keeping my eyes open, looking all around for mammals that may be out this morning. The birds are active in the riparian areas, taking baths and searching for food in the trees. The robins make all kinds of noise as they eat blackberries. 

What catches my attention today are the dragonflies flying everywhere. There are red ones, green ones, blue ones, large ones and small ones. I start taking photos of the ones that are resting on the plants along the creek, or in the wet areas along the shore, but quickly realize, it is not an easy task. Many more of them are flying around, not stopping at all, doing a dance together, or so it looks! The first one, I finally catch still enough to photograph, is what I know as a Twelve Spotted Skimmer, Libellula pulchella, its black spots on the beautiful double wings are diagnostic and noticeable as it flies around. The largest one that I get a photo of is a Darner, I think it is a California Darner, Rhionaeschna californica, one of the most beautiful patterned of the Darners. The turquoise blue eyes and turquoise spots down its abdomen stand out as it flies above me. There are many red and orange dragonflies buzzing past until finally one lands for a moment and I see that it is a type of Meadowhawk, Sympetrum sp.  and wonder if the orange ones are the females or juveniles. The last one I get a photo of is doing something interesting on the ground. There are small mud depressions around it and this dragonfly seems to be walking backward into the holes. Maybe it is laying eggs! This is a type of darner also, it is large and a beautiful green color.

Dragonflies are insects in the order Odonata, which means toothed one, referring to their serrated teeth. They lay their eggs in the water and have an aquatic larvae that is predacious on tadpoles, fish, other aquatic larvae, and even their own species. This larvae can look scary and large, up to 2 inches long, like a water dragon. It can take up to 2 years for these larvae to mature into dragonflies, crawling out onto vegetation or rocks and splitting open their exoskeletons to emerge as an adult dragonfly with four wings. They are extraordinary flyers able to fly backwards, forward, up and down, and helicopter their wings so they can stay motionless in the air. They eat other flying insects and can eat from 30 to hundreds of mosquitoes per day. They catch their prey with their feet so must eat while flying. Some dragonflies only live a couple of weeks while others live up to a year. Their heads are  made up, mostly, of excellent eyes which can see all around them, except right behind them.

A few interesting facts I read is that dragonflies are one of the oldest flying insects at 300 million years old, and they used to have wingspans of up to 2 feet!

It seems everywhere I look I can see these dragons of the sky flying by, quietly hunting for their “meals on air” while looking out for their main predators, those noisy birds.  I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes about dragonflies:

“Who would deduce the dragonfly from the larva, the iris from the bud, the lawyer from the infant?…We are all shape-shifters and magical reinventors. Life is really a plural noun, a caravan of selves.” – Diane Ackerman