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Macro Spotlight: Dragonflies

Ohio is home to a wide variety of dragonflies. Some, such as the green darner are found across most of the state and in a variety of habitats, whereas others are more elusive only found in tiny pockets of habitat.

Dragonflies are beneficial insects. They are true carnivores, eating huge amounts of insects, especially mosquitoes and gnats. They catch their food while flying, scooping the prey out of the air in a “basket” that they form with their legs and thorax. They either eat while they are flying or will sit on a stem and chew.

Dragonflies can almost always be found around very clean and fresh bodies of water because that is the only kind of water they can live in and around. If the body of water receives runoff contains animal waste, chemicals such as fertilizers, or other pollutants, the dragonflies will not survive. Unfortunately for us, their prey, the mosquito larvae can handle much more pollution. Therefore, if water bodies are polluted, we lose our beneficial dragonflies and the mosquito population soars.

Adult dragonflies will lay their eggs in water and immature dragonflies/larva will hatch from the eggs. They will have external gills that will allow them to breath and live underwater until metamorphosis. After a few months to several years (depending upon species), the larva are ready for metamorphosis. They will climb onto a plant and up out of the water. Their larval shell will burst open, and the dragonfly will climb out and unfurl its wings. New adults are called tenerals but will still need a week to fully mature their bodies need to harden and must become strong enough to fly.

Dragonflies are commonly confused with their cousin the damselfly. There are very distinct differences between the two. One of the main differences between dragonflies and damselflies is easiest to see when they are perched. Dragonflies will hold their wings out horizontally while the damselfly fold their wings back along their back. Being nature, there are exceptions, the spreadwing damselfly holds its wings out like a dragon. If you get to see a dragon or damsel close up, check out their eyes. Dragonfly eyes are huge and touch, damsel eyes are on with side of their head. No matter which, they both have near 360 degree view, making it hard for their prey to escape. Research has shown they are the most effective predators in the animal world with a 95% success rate! Lions only have a 25% success.

If you would like to find out more about dragonflies, ODNR Division of Wildlife has a great free field guide online and copies can be picked up from State Parks and other ODNR location. Search “ODNR dragonflies and damselflies of Ohio field guide”.

If you would like to encourage more dragonflies to your year, you can create a dragonfly pond. You can watch a recording of our workshop, starting at the 55 minute mark, to learn more


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