All about dragonflies | Living the Country Life

All about dragonflies

With their brilliant colors and transparent wings, you can't help but be transfixed by their movement over the water

There are lots of dragonflies at the lake near our house.  I love to watch them hover and dart around, but they used to scare the kids. They're large insects and those long abdomens do look menacing.

Ken Holscher is an extension entomologist at Iowa State University. He says there's no need to be afraid of dragonflies. They don't bite, sting, or cause any harm to humans. However, small insects don't stand a chance.

"In fact they are probably the best mosquito control you can have in terms of picking adult mosquitoes out of the air and feeding on them. Every now and then around some neighborhoods there will just be a swarm of dragonflies all flying around, and people get concerned about that and think there's something wrong and they need to do something about it," says Holscher. "We tell them nope, they're probably there because there's food for them and that's something you want."

Adult dragonflies hunt only on warm, sunny days. They fly in a pattern back and forth over the water, up to speeds of 30 mph. They scoop small insects from the air using their spiny front legs that are held like a basket under the mouth.

It would be very beneficial to have dragonflies patrolling your back yard, but Holscher says it's difficult to attract them.

"You're going to find them in areas where obviously they have water to reproduce in, a constant source of water. It can't just be a temporary puddle, or pool, or anything like that," he says. "So anywhere where you have a pond, a lake, any type of water source like that, you're probably going to have them. And then along with that, at least with the adults, there's got to be an abundance of food for them."

Dragonflies are sensitive to pollution, so their presence may be a sign of a healthy ecosystem. However, they're a hardy insect. According to fossil records, dragonflies have remained unchanged for millions of years, even pre-dating the dinosaurs.

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