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Dragons and damsels

Landis Arboretum program will take people on a dragonfly hunt

Discover a wide variety of dragonflies, like this twelve-spotted variety, at the July 19 “Dragonflies and Damselflies” event at Landis Arboretum in Esperance.

Discover a wide variety of dragonflies, like this twelve-spotted variety, at the July 19 “Dragonflies and Damselflies” event at Landis Arboretum in Esperance.

— The glittery, seemingly harmless dragonfly that we find swooping through the summer air may not seem to live up to it’s ferocious name, but that wasn’t always the case.

Dragonflies the size of seagulls once ruled the air. That was 300 million years ago.

Fortunately, today’s dragonflies are much smaller and not capable of catching prey the size of a squirrel. However, they put a dent in the mosquito population and may occasionally pinch the skin of a human.

“They are tremendous hunters of mosquitoes. They catch their prey on the wings of other insects,” said Anne Donnelly, dragonfly surveyor for the New York State Natural Heritage Program. “They don’t bite or sting, although I was showing kids how to handle them saying they don’t bite, and I got bit.”

Donnelly said the pinch was less than that of a horsefly and didn’t even leave a mark.

“But, those kids certainly called me on it,” Donnelly laughed.

Despite Donnelly’s small pinch, she is a great admirer of dragonflies and it’s cousin, the damselfly. She will share her enthusiasm at what she calls a field trip at the Landis Arboretum in Esperance Saturday, July 19.

“We just went kayaking in the Adirondacks over the weekend at a small Adirondack lake. I was sitting in my kayak and one of my favorites, an Ebony Jewelwing, one of the larger damselflies with wings that are jet black and a body that is a brilliant iridescent green ... they were quite prevalent. I was just thrilled,” Donnelly said.

In fact, if you spend time by a lake or stream during the month of July, Donnelly said you are likely to spot one of these glittery insects.

“The different species cycle through the summer. This is peak season, the end of July. There is a different cast of characters in the fall,” she said. “The biggest and most spectacular is the Common Green Darner. It has a bright green thorax and is one of the largest of the dragonflies.”

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