Flying Dragons?

by Ronald Stine | Jul 1, 2022 | 0 comments

Common Blue Damselfly
Common Blue Damselfly. Photo © Dogwood Ridge.

“What is that fluttering bug?” Kimberly asked.

“That’s a damselfly,” I answered. “Let’s follow it to see if it will land in the sun. They are iridescent and very pretty if the sun shines on them just right, but in the shade they look almost black.”

“Oh, look,” Kimberly exclaimed, “it is beautiful! Such a pretty blue-green, it kind of glows.”

“I really like watching them. Their flight is funny, but the colors God gave them are something to observe, especially with binoculars.” I put in.

Just then Esther said, “Daddy, you should have seen the HUGE dragonfly I saw by the garden! It was this big!” She held her hands apart to show me.

“Well, it probably wasn’t quite that big, maybe more this size,” I said as I moved her hands closer together. “I was watching them the other day too.”

“They must have eaten a lot of bugs to get that big,” she stated.

“That’s what I used to think too, and they do, but not in the way you are thinking.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, wrinkling up her nose.

“Once they are a dragonfly, they stay the same size. It is in the larval stage that they do their growing. And they do eat a lot of bugs during that time of growing. They eat until they get too big for their shells. Then they molt or shed their skins. When they come out of their old shells, they are soft, and fluid quickly expands to make them bigger. Then they form a shell around the larger size—this happens several times. They spend their whole larval stage underwater.”

Kimberly asked, “Do they come up for air?”

“No, they have gills sort of like fish do,” I replied. “They stay underwater for a month to five years, depending on the
kind of dragonfly or damselfly it is. Some larvae can get over 2 inches (5 cm) long!”

“Five years! What do they eat?” she exclaimed.

“About anything they can catch, even other dragonfly larvae! They especially like fly larvae, but they will eat almost any water insect they find. They use their extendable lower lip, equipped with hooks, to catch their food.”

“Does anything eat them?” she wondered.

“Oh, yes! Fish, birds, frogs, turtles, and other insects will eat the larvae.”

“How do they become a dragonfly? Do they make a cocoon under the water?” she asked.

“No, God made them know when it is time to become a dragonfly. They come out of the water and hang on a blade of grass or a plant stem and shed their exoskeleton (that’s their shell) for the last time. But this time they look different. They have wings, a different body shape, different eyes, and they can breathe air.”

“Then they’re a dragonfly!” Esther exclaimed.

“Almost, but not quite. They are a teneral at this point. They are soft and yellowish green. It takes a few days or longer for them to harden and get the colors of a dragonfly. Then they are a dragonfly that we can watch fly around so well and catch insects.”

“What about the pretty damselflies? Do they do the same thing?” Kimberly inquired.

“Yes,” I replied, “the larva and the adult look different from dragonflies, but their life cycle is similar.”

“Do they live a long time?” Esther wondered. “That big one looked old.”

“No, they don’t. They usually live only a few weeks to a few months. But there are some that live longer and migrate south.

“Do you remember the time we saw a dragonfly down by the creek dipping its tail in the water?” I asked. “At the time, I thought it was scaring up insects to eat. But, no, I have found out since then that that is how they lay their eggs in the water.”

Halloween Pennant Dragonfly
Halloween Pennant Dragonfly. Photo © Dogwood Ridge.

“Did you know there are over 400 kinds of dragonflies and damselflies in North America?” I asked the girls.

“That many!” Esther said, “I thought there was only one kind.”

“Yes, there are that many! Different species have different perching positions, different wing shapes and markings, different colors and eye shapes. Maybe what we should do this summer is observe the dragonflies and damselflies we see and try to identify them. To do that, we will need to take note of as many characteristics as we can, then use our dragonfly field guide to help us.”

“Yes, that will be fun,” they agreed, “and we can take pictures too!”

“That’s a good idea.” I added.

Then Esther asked, “But why do they call them dragonflies? They don’t look like dragons.”

“I guess I can’t answer all your questions,” I replied. “There goes that damselfly. Let’s follow it some more.”

Ebony jewelwing damselfly
Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly. Photo © Dogwood Ridge.

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