You might see a dragonfly while you are mowing the lawn or fishing, and think for a moment that dragonflies are interesting to see, and maybe think that it’s good that they eat mosquitoes, then you go back to your work or play and forget them.
They deserve a little more attention, and when you do pay more attention, you will be glad you did.
Dragonflies and damselflies are insects in the order Odonata. They have six legs but they do not walk. They can move their front wings independently of the rear wings. They see better in front and above, so if you want to net them, approach from below and behind. Dragonflies eat other insects, often including other odonates.
Scientific names: dragonflies are Anisoptera; damselflies are Zygoptera. Anisoptera comes from Greek terms meaning “not, equal, wings.” Dragonflies’ rear wings are larger than the front wings. Odonata comes from the Greek odonto, meaning toothed, referring to the imposing dental accoutrements by which they devour other winged creatures. Zygoptera comes from Greek roots meaning paired wings, as the two sets of wings are nearly identical.
Dragonflies lay their eggs in slow moving or still water. The eggs hatch into carnivorous nymphs which may live for six months to two years before emerging to molt out of their exoskeleton, spreading wings out to dry, and off they go to fly for a season while mating and eventually dying.
If you hang out at lakes or ponds containing vigorous cattail stands, you will see damselflies as well as dragonflies. Damselflies are slender, like pencil leads, with eyes set wide apart, blue/black or green/black long bodies, and wings cocked over the body. They are typically 1.3 to 1.8 inches long. Damselflies are not young dragonflies.
Most people do not know that Wyoming is a rich haven for dragons and damsels. During the flight season they are almost everywhere; low, high, wet or dry. Dozens of species of each are waiting to be found. Red, blue, amber, green, black; they are all about. There are more in marshes, but we have had a dozen species in our back yard. Grab that new digital camera and look for them between June and September. Send the photos to a website (Odonate Central) if you are certain of identifying the species, or send them to me if you are not, and if I have time I will try to identify them. My email: TheSageGrouse@wyofile.com
Odonate Central: http://www.odonatacentral.org/index.php/PageAction.get/name/HomePage
Want to know more? Books:
Paulson, Dennis. Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West. Princeton Univ.
Borror & White. Peterson Field Guide to Insects. Houghton Mifflin
Dunkle, Sidney. Dragonflies Through Binoculars. Oxford Univ. Press.
(My favorite is Paulson’s book. Yours might be Dunkle’s as it’s a lot easier to use.)