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Dragonflies exude power and poise
Kokomo's John Myers takes time to enjoy the natural surroundings on his many fishing ventures.
Photo by author John Myers is an avid fisherman, more than most. Few days pass where he can’t be found sitting on the banks of his favorite lakes and ponds. But on one particular evening he enjoyed something completely different. “I went fishing yesterday day, had a great time and never even wet a line,” said the professional painter from Kokomo. “Most of the time I am so focused on fishing that I don’t stop to smell the roses and actually see what’s going on around me,” he continued. He explained how he packed his fishing equipment hoping to land a few bluegills for his evening supper. After arriving at the water’s edge he noticed dozens of dragonflies hovering around him. “I never realized how amazing they are and really enjoyed watching them,” he said. There’s a good reason why we see dragonflies around water – they’re aquatic creatures. And seeing them is good because they are a clean water indicator species. Dragonflies are ancient creatures and long before dinosaurs walked the earth these insects took to the air. Fossils date them back 300 million years and even today remain a subject of intrigue. The largest dragonfly recorded from fossil records had a wingspan of nearly three feet. Although not nearly that big in today’s world some can still reach five inches in length. Dragonflies can be confused with their cousin and similar looking damselfly. Although nearly identical in appearance there are subtle differences. The easiest distinction is in the eyes. Dragonflies have huge eyes that nearly touch in the center while the eyes of damselflies are located on the side on the head. The four wings of a dragonfly are nearly equal in size and length but the rear wings of their kin are smaller than the front. The United States hosts nearly 450 different species of which about 100 call Indiana home. The majority are classified as skimmers, darners and spiketails. Their life span extends anywhere from six months to several years with the bulk being spent in the water as a nymph. Female’s lay their eggs on the water’s surface, or in some cases, deposit them in aquatic plants and mosses. Once hatched the nymphs spend their time hunting other aquatic invertebrates. Larger species will even eat the occasional small fish or tadpole. When the nymph is finally ready for adulthood, it crawls out of the water onto a rock or plant and molts for the final time. The newly emerged dragonfly, (called a teneral adult) is soft and pale and highly vulnerable to predators. For the first few days most will be consumed by birds, frogs and other predators. Their survival rate is generally poor. But once becoming an adult they themselves become voracious predators. These insects are the jet-fighters of the insect world and few bugs on their diet can escape them. They are one of the few that can fly in all six directions and even hover. Their flight exudes power and poise. Dragonflies can move each of their four wings independently. In addition to flapping each wing up and down, they can also rotate them back and forth on an axis. This flexibility enables them to put on an air show like no other. And believe it or not they can reach speeds of up to 35 mph. There are many myths surrounding these capable fliers. As a child, I was sometime fearful as they swooped over my head. I had been told they could deliver a painful bite. That, I later learned was false. Although equipped with powerful mandibles for catching prey, they do not bite or sting. The intimidating insects are actually harmless to humans, although deadly to other smaller bugs. Entomologists categorize them as beneficial because their diet consists primarily of mosquitoes, gnats and spiders. Although they will never be as popular as those who enjoy butterfly identification, they do draw a small crowd of enthusiasts, like recently indoctrinated Myers. So the next time you are around a small body of water take a moment to appreciate and take wonder in the shimmer and beauty of a dragonfly on wing.