They're not dragons, and they're not flies.
But they boast a swelling fan base.
You might call dragonflies the stunt pilots of the insect world.
They wear flashy colors, dart at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour,
boast ancestors that predate dinosaurs ... and they even mate in
darner dragonflies at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife
Refuge. (Photo: J.N. Stuart/Creative Commons)
These are just some of the reasons that the insects are gaining
attention, both on and off national wildlife refuges. Dragonfly
festivals are popping up across the country and a crop of new field
guides are making the rounds around American towns and cities.
"People are fascinated with finding dragonflies," says David True,
refuge ranger at Aransas
National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. "It is a growing thing."
Bruce Lund, with the Friends
of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Nevada, agrees.
He credits rising interest, in part, to two popular new field guides
by zoologist Dennis Paulson and new state guides that help dragonfly
enthusiasts identify their finds. Then there are the viewer-friendly
habits of the insects themselves.
"People are attracted to these insects because they are big [compared
to other insects], colorful, and active in daytime," says Lund,
who leads periodic refuge dragonfly tours.
Adults and children also like dragonflies' fanciful names: Vivid
Dancer, Sparkling Jewelwing, Furtive Forktail, Stygian Shadowdragon,
Harlequin Darner, Dragonhunter, Ebony Boghaunter are some highlighted
on a fact sheet at Aransas Refuge.
For their parts, national wildlife refuges are happy to host dragonflies
not just because they're native wildlife but because they're natural
mosquito controls and indicators of clean water. Dragonflies are
generally most abundant in mid to late summer.
Dragonflies and damselflies are members of the biological order
odonata, meaning "toothed ones." ("They don't have teeth; don't
ask me why they're called that," says True.)
Some refuges known for their dragonflies include:
- Bitter Lake
National Wildlife Refuge, NM. The refuge plans to host its
12th annual dragonfly festival on September 7 and 8. Last year's
festival, which also celebrated the refuge's 75th birthday, drew
more than 2,000 people, up from the usual 1,000 to 1,200. More
than 60 dragonfly species have been spotted on the refuge, including
the rare bleached skimmer. Stop by the visitor center to see the
collection of dragonflies there. Peak dragonfly viewing is in
July and August.
- Patoka River
National Wildlife Refuge, IN. Refuge wetlands host 30 species
of dragonflies and 13 species of damselflies, including some rare
kinds, found a 2009 survey. Pick up "Dragonflies and Damselflies
of the Patoka River Refuge" at the refuge office; the printout
lists species, flight seasons and likelihood of sightings. While
you're there, see the dragonfly life cycle poster on display.
Three miles of refuge trails lead visitors through habitats where
dragonflies can be seen. The Halloween pennant dragonfly, named
for its orange and black wings, can be found at almost any refuge
oxbow or wetland from mid-June through early October.
- Aransas National
Wildlife Refuge, TX. Dragonfly species you may see at the
refuge include Red Saddlebags and Wandering Gliders. See a complete
list of resident dragonfly species: http://1.usa.gov/ZmsQHo
- In southern Nevada, the Desert National Wildlife Refuge Complex
Meadows Refuge, Desert
Valley Refuge and Pahranagat
Refuge) recently completed surveys of its dragonflies and
damselflies. Biologists and volunteers documented 35 dragonfly
species, including two found in the state for the first time.
Ask for a checklist of species when you visit.
Did you know?
Dragonflies boast two sets of wings, which they flap at about 30
beats per second.
Dragonflies have huge compound eyes, which give them almost 360-degree
Dragonflies develop a taste for meat early. As nymphs, they snack
on water insects, worms, mosquito larvae and small fish.
When at rest, a dragonfly holds its wings open, either at right
angles to its body or downward. A damselfly closes its wings, usually
over its abdomen.
Dragonflies don't have stingers and can't harm you. Myths abound
Get more dragonfly facts here
Download pics from our Flickr
site ... and don't forget to share with your friends!
Amazed By How Dragonflies Dance