Skip to comments.Dragonflies: They're ravenous, a little scary and oh-so-helpful.......and they're "Cool"
Posted on 07/21/2002 1:58:12 AM PDT by MeekOneGOP
Dragonflies: They're ravenous, a little scary and oh-so-helpful
Bugs have an appetite for pests and no real drawbacks, experts say
Forget Eight Legged Freaks and say hello to the Six Legged Carnivores zooming aerial acrobats and nonstop eating machines that, despite their name, are really, really nice.
OK, they do scare the daylights out of kids (and many adults). But dragonflies, bursting forth in amazing numbers in this somewhat soggy year, are that rarity in the natural world: They come with virtually no downside.
"From the time they hatch to the time they die, they're eating something, and it's always something they've caught," said James Lasswell, a senior research associate in entomology at Texas A&M University's Stephenville extension center.
"They eat gnats and mosquitoes and flies. They love mosquito larvae. They're great things to have."
And this year, we have them, in ample numbers.
For that, thank the bounteous rains and the temporary pools and patches of standing water. They're just perfect for at least a couple of dragonfly species that are buzzing around suburban neighborhoods and open land right now, eating every bug in sight.
"What you're seeing now are the flights of the Wandering Glider and a similar dragonfly, the Spot-winged Glider," Mr. Lasswell said. "Both lay their eggs in temporary pools and such. And this year, they've had ample opportunity to lay their eggs."
Some dragonflies have drawn-out life cycles, spending as much as five years in the naiad stage before reaching adulthood and flying away. But not these two gliders.
"With these, the cycles are very short," Mr. Lasswell said. "On farms and ranches, you'll find their larvae in stock tanks not stock ponds, but the metal tanks. You'll even find them in birdbaths. Their life cycle is very quick."
And that means they live lives of great purpose feeding and mating, laying eggs, then perhaps mating again for another brood. There's no time to waste.
"We just got a letter from a man in San Antonio who said he was watching thousands of them migrating and the Wandering Glider does migrate, in response to what, we're not sure.
"It might be to find food, or maybe they're flying toward a thunderstorm in anticipation of having a place to lay eggs," Mr. Lasswell said.
In cities and suburbs, people often see dragonflies in a frenzied swarm, darting and turning seemingly for the fun of it. More likely, Mr. Lasswell said, they're picking up dinner on the fly.
"You'll see them in the late afternoon or early evening, and they've found a bunch of gnats or something else concentrated in that one area, something we can't see," he said. "They'll be zooming around, four, five, six feet off the ground. I've seen fields just completely covered."
Dragonflies eat incredible numbers of insects, making them a valuable summer ally. Best of all, they don't bite, don't sting and don't carry human diseases, Mr. Lasswell said.
"The only thing they do is scare the kids," he said.
That's because they're big and fast and not particularly shy around people. And the buzz of those gossamer wings will send the strongest man swatting.
"We got an e-mail saying they had a dragonfly move in, and now they couldn't use their pool at different times of the day.
"People need to understand they will not hurt you, they don't carry any diseases, they eat other insects, and they're good to have," he said, repeating a well-practiced list of dragonfly virtues.
And, they're very cool.
They were buzzing around before dinosaurs appeared fossil records show dragonflies with 27-inch wingspans and except for being much smaller, the basic dragonfly has changed little.
But they can sport color schemes as dazzling as anything in nature.
Dallas and neighboring counties are home to the electric-red Neon Skimmer, the burnt-orange Flame Skimmer, the orange and black Halloween Pennant and the vivid green and blue Eastern Pondhawk.
"If you look for them, you'll see them," Mr. Lasswell said. "This is a peak time for dragonflies. There are a lot more of the species out now than at any time of the year."
But don't bother catching them for a colorful collection, he warned. When dragonflies die, their colors fade. In death, all dragonflies are gray.
Besides, they're too beneficial to kill. So be kind.
Most of all, "Don't freak out," Mr. Lasswell said.
Dragonflies really are nice. Honest.
Down with the charlatans and treacherous neocons, up with the dragonflies, winged knights of the pond.