Acrobatic Artistry

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Dragonflies and Damselflies Add Beauty and Benefit To Your Water Garden
By Jennifer ZuriĀ  (aquascapeinc.com)

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He circled the pond not once, not twice, but a dizzying number of times. He hovered for a moment before descending upon a flat, sun-soaked rock and rested as though posing for a still-life painting. The dragonfly claimed his territory and was prepared to ward off any fellow male intruders, permitting only female dragonflies to cross his circled boundary.

 

True Survivors

Dragonflies skimmed the earth’s water surfaces 300 million years ago, surviving well beyond the dinosaurs that roamed the land 180 million years ago. Charles Darwin asserted that a species survives by finding its niche in the world. Dragonflies are aerial hunters, thus filling a niche of feeding while in flight. They reach speeds of 35 miles per hour and are voracious carnivores, feeding primarily on mosquitoes, gnats, and flies. Dragonflies pluck their prey in the air, grasping the unsuspecting victim with their legs and devouring them before ever landing. Likewise, the male dragonfly uses his legs to catch his female counterpart in flight for mating, and curves his abdomen around, hooking to the back of her head. They continue flying in this position while the male transfers sperm from the tip of his abdomen to a more convenient pouch. The female then swings her long abdomen to the sperm pouch until their bodies form a wheel. The mating dragonflies can remain airborne in this position from a few seconds to more than an hour. The female deposits the eggs under water, on top of the water, or even in a soft aquatic plant stem, depending on the species of the dragonfly.

 

From Water to Air

The dragonfly spends the majority of its life underwater in the larva stage, feeding on aquatic insects (such as mosquito larvae), worms, crustaceans, tadpoles, and even small fish. The larva stage can last anywhere from six months to several years. These dragonfly nymphs breathe through anal respiratory gills, and can propel by shooting water through the opening. Emerging into adulthood, the nymph will crawl up a vertical plant, hooking its claws into the stem for stability. Once secure on the stem, the outer casing breaks at the back of the larva head and the adult emerges. At this point, the dragonfly is extremely vulnerable since it is not yet able to fly. The wings and body begin to expand until flight is attainable. The dragonfly’s adult life lasts anywhere from a couple months to a year. While the larva stage is primarily for growth, adulthood is devoted to procreation.

 

Damsels and Dragons

Dragonflies are often confused with damselflies, both of which are classified as Odonata, an order of aquatic insects. Dragonflies are strong fliers with eyes that touch at the top of the head. At rest, the dragonfly’s wings remain open at 180 degrees. In comparison, damselflies exhibit a weak, fluttery flight and possess separated eyes. At rest, the wings of a damselfly fold close to the body.

 

Aerial Acrobats

Watching dragonflies by the pond can prove more entertaining than bird watching. These tiny aerial acrobats fly backwards, change direction in mid air, hover, and halt to a complete stop. Colors are as varied as the rainbow, with some species changing color, as they get older. Dragonfly wingspan ranges from less than an inch to roughly 7 inches. Fossil records show ancient dragonflies had wingspans up to 3 feet. The species we know today were fully evolved by the time dinosaurs traipsed the earth.

Because dragonflies are interminable survivors, they are able to disperse to a new body of water when current sources dry up or become polluted. However, habitats for dragonflies in England are decreasing and some species are endangered. In North America, 15 percent of dragonfly species are at risk of extinction.

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Author: Bobby Kenyon
Bobby Kenyon is the Creative Solutions Guru for C.E. Pontz Sons who has over a decade plus experience in the Landscape & Water Garden industry . He enjoys long walks on the beach and grocery shopping but has a strong dislike for regular cake and non brand name paper towels

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