Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dragonflies


I was bringing something out to the car yesterday and I noticed an enormous insect just banging repeatedly into the siding of the house. I noticed it because it made a substantial noise when it hit due to its size. It was a dragonfly. I have noticed we have an enormous number of dragonflies here in New Hampshire, many more than I ever saw in Illinois. I realized I knew nothing about them. What do they eat? What is their life cycle – do they start as larvae, and then become caterpillars, then dragonflies? I had no idea. How did I live 50 years and remain so ignorant of the world around me?

Thank goodness for libraries and the internet. I now know that dragonfly eggs are deposited in water, or sometimes in the stems of underwater plants. After hatching, they live as naiads in the water eating other bugs, sometimes even small fish. They capture their waterborne prey via a large lower lip. Some species live in this mode for a few years. They shed their naiad skin and become dragonflies at some point – I don’t claim to understand the whole cycle yet.

They look beautiful and creepy all at the same time. They are not harmful to people, in fact they are voracious eaters of insects that I don’t enjoy: mainly mosquitoes. So, dragonflies rock!

One of the fascinating things about dragonflies is their flight capabilities. You can see them stop abruptly, fly backwards, hover and fly sideways. In fact, they have 4 wings, each of which can operate independently to give them these amazing flight characteristics. See http://tolweb.org/notes/?note_id=2471 for more information on their flying capabilities.

Now I feel a little better. Maybe next I’ll figure out what those spider web looking things are in the trees. It looks like a cocoon with a squirrel or raccoon inside it, but surely that can’t be what it really is. Right?

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