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Dragonflies: Rainbows On the Wing

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Who hasn't marveled at the aerial abilities of dragonflies as they glide effortlessly over sparkling streams, pristine ponds and lakes, plucking insects from the air with deadly precision?

Dragonflies and their smaller cousins, the damselflies, belong to an ancient order of insects known as Odonata. Fossil records show that they were around for 100 million years before the dinosaurs. These prehistoric predators had wingspans of over three feet and are the largest insects known.

Surprisingly, these brilliantly colored masters of the air are classified as aquatic insects because they spend most of their lives as larvae underwater among plants or in silt. They may spend five years or more in the larval stage, molting several times before emerging as adults—and then living only a few weeks to a few months.

With keen eyesight and expert airmanship, odonates easily outmaneuver and catch insect prey. Their four gossamer wings move independently of one another, giving them the ability to fly forward, backward, and sideways, or to just hover in place. Bead-like eyes provide 360–degree stereovision, allowing them the ability to spot insects in any direction without turning or moving their heads. (In fact, dragonflies have the biggest eyes in the insect world.)

The dragonflies' and damsels' fondness for mosquitoes puts them in the category of beneficial insects, but even more important is their role as barometers of wetland health. In order to survive, odonate larvae need clean, well-oxygenated water. Drainage of wetlands, pollution from farming and industry, and the development of new roads and houses have increasingly reduced odonate habitat. Conservation of existing wetlands is key to odonate survival, as is providing new habitats for them to colonize.

Constructing a pond or other backyard water feature will attract a surprising number of odonates. Size is not crucial, but dig the basin deep enough so that the water won't freeze solid in the winter. Plant a few native plants at its edge for wind protection. By providing needed habitat, you can help save dragonflies as well as damsels in distress.

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Comments

today as I was sitting on my

By Melody Dixon

today as I was sitting on my balcony, I looked out over a vacant lot and there many dragonflies just swarming over the lot. does this mean anything? like rain, drop in humidity, or what. I have never seen so many dragonflies flying in one place. one landed on me as I sat outside.

Dragonflies are so so cool.

By miss scott

Dragonflies are so so cool. They are my totem insect.

I've been afraid to use

By MAPLADY

I've been afraid to use mosquito dunks since I must be sure it won't harm any dragonfly "tadpoles". Can a scientific person please verify? Summer would be lonely by the pond without my friendly blue acrobatic pals. They even perch on my finger!

My husband and I drink our

By Carolyn Elam

My husband and I drink our morning coffee on our patio, there seems to be no reduction in the amt. of dragonflies in our area, Mobile, Al. They are truely the most beautiful insect in the air. We even saw a white one once, and the red winged ones are gorgeous!

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