The Wonders of the Dragonfly

The staggering diversity of life in this saturated season brings out sky hunters, a.k.a. dragonflies. These amazing creatures were among the very first winged insects to evolve on planet Earth over 300 million years ago.

Residing on all but one continent, Antarctica, there are around 7,000 existing known species, according to National Geographic’s website. For some reason, dragonflies have always held my interest, so I seek them out in gardens, wetlands, lakes and while creek-walking on a hot day.

Am I attracted to their vibrant names such as California Dancer, Tule Bluet, Blue-eyed Darner or Striped Meadowhawk? A couple of reasons they hold my interest is because they are such entertaining forms of wildlife, as well as voracious mosquito munchers. As carnivores, their mandibles grab and gulp from 30 to several hundred mosquitoes per day!

One day as I relaxed on the deck, I spied a dragonfly patrolling nearby. Soon it lit on a spear of bamboo that was staking up some plants. I thought, “I wonder if I point my finger skyward if it will land on it?” So, channeling my inner bamboo (tee hee!) I held my finger aloft, and to my surprise, a dragonfly landed on my index finger, allowing me to study it up close and personal. The same thing happened in my sister’s swimming pool one afternoon when I was honored by a ‘sky hunter’ landing on my finger once again!

Dragonflies, according to writer Kathy Biggs in her book Common Dragonflies of California, are indicators of a healthy watershed. These jewel-colored insects belong to the order Odonata and can be seen emerging from the one to three-year nymph aquatic phase of their lives in March and April.

During the first years of the surreal Pandemic, I, like millions, took class after class on Zoom. One class I enjoyed was Kenin Munroes’s dragonfly talk which was coordinated by Margot Rawlins through Sonoma State University’s Center for Environmental Inquiry.

As a self-proclaimed dragonfly geek and field naturalist with a background in ecological restoration, environmental education, and biodiversity preservation, Munroe explained that in order to differentiate between a damselfly and a dragonfly, look to the wings.

While the dragonfly’s wings are straight as the wings of an airplane when resting, a damselfly tucks in its wings and keeps them close to the body. A dragonfly will not flap their four wings, but will hover, flying forward and backward using little muscles at the base of their wings. The small but mighty muscles allow the dragonfly to fly at about 60 miles per hour.

Although you may see dragonflies hunting in dry areas, they will return to their favored damp habitat that retains water in some form. Dragonflies increase flight activity in temperatures of 63 degrees and above, which allows their muscles to warm up. These enterprising critters can shiver to warm up as they sit in the sunlight. Known for their super, multifaceted eyesight, dragonflies observe the world through compound eyes.

Since there are dozens of dragonfly species flitting about Lake County, you are sure to observe some flying hunters soon. Watch one as it hovers like a drone, then lands on an impossible-looking spot at the tip of a tule reed. Then, you can notice how it has kept its prehistoric looks while being grateful that the dragonflies of today did not retain their nearly two-foot wingspan of the past!

Kathleen Scavone

Kathleen Scavone, MA., is a retired educator who has resided in beautiful Lake County for over 45 years. She freelances fiction, poetry, nature writing, curriculum ideas, and local history. She writes for The Press Democrat, Napa Valley Register, News From Native California, Green Prints, etc. She has published three books, a play and a poetry chapbook. The second edition of her locally set historical novella, People of the Water- a novella of the events leading to the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850 is available in local museums and stores, as well as on Amazon.com and IngramSpark in both paperback and e-book formats. She has written Anderson Marsh State Historic Park- A Walking History, Prehistory, Flora and Fauna tour of a California State Park, and Native Americans of Lake County. Kathleen is a photographer and potter. Her other interests include hiking, assisting on archaeology digs, travel, gardening and reading.

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