For the Birds: Dragonflies arouse amazement, curiosity, by Chris Bosak

Eastern pondhawk

Chris Bosak

An eastern pondhawk in a New England meadow this summer.

I’m a big “fun facts” guy. Thankfully, the Internet is filled with these interesting tidbits of information.

You could find amusing information on just about anything you can think of: politics, art, sports, human biology, libraries, history. You name it, it’s out there on the web.

The animal world, of course, is no exception. Fun facts abound on the Internet about earthworms, cicadas, robins, moose, musk ox, and countless other fascinating members of the animal kingdom.

I wrote recently about a few hot-weather walks I took through New England meadows. I focused that column primarily on butterflies, but I want to turn the attention to another common sighting I had on those walks: dragonflies.

These large insects have fascinated people for as long as people have been fascinated by things. Dragonflies can arouse amazement, fear or curiosity in humans. For me, it’s a combination of amazement and curiosity. I used to fear them when I was a kid due to a lack of understanding about them. They may be intimidating-looking, but they are as harmless as they come in the insect world — at least the ones we have in New England. (See, I snuck in a fun fact without even setting it up.) OK, now for the set up: Dragonflies arouse curiosity in people for many reasons, such as their menacing appearance, aerial acrobatics, and ability to eat copious amounts of mosquitoes. Here are some other facts about dragonflies that you may or may not have known previously.

Dragonflies have two eyes, but each compound eye is made up of up to 30,000 ommatidium, or facets. The eyes make up most of a dragonfly’s head.

Dragonflies can fly in any direction and can hover for long periods of time. They can also fly upwards of 30 miles per hour.

That flying ability makes dragonflies excellent hunters, eating large amounts of small flying insects, but they can also be the hunted. I’ve seen birds such as green herons and purple martins snatch dragonflies out of the air.

Dragonflies are insects and therefore have six legs, a head, thorax and abdomen. They also have four wings, and the fore wings and hind wings are controlled separately, hence their awesome aerial abilities.

Dragonflies can be monomorphic (male and female look alike), dimorphic (male and female look different) or polymorphic (much variety even among males and females.) The most common colors for dragonflies in New England are blue and green, but there are also red, amber and white dragonflies here.

There are only a handful of dragonfly families that occur in New England (such as skimmers and darners), but there are about 200 species among those families in our region. The largest dragonfly in New England is the green darner, which is more than three inches long.

Dragonflies live all over the world, although most live in warm climates.

Eggs are laid in or near water and larva live for about a year in the water. After emerging, dragonflies live for only a few months as adults, if they are not eaten by something else sooner than that.

A group of dragonflies is called a swarm. They are multi-generational migrants, meaning the ones that fly south are not the same ones that return north.

Dragonflies make for interesting photo subjects. They often return to the same perch over and over, making it easier on photographers.

What’s your story about dragonflies? Let me know at the email address below.

For the Birds runs Mondays in The Sentinel. Chris Bosak may be reached at chrisbosak26@gmail.com or through his website www.birdsofnewengland.com

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