Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a dragon? Is it a fly? What in the world is a dragonfly? These unique creatures obviously aren’t birds, planes, dragons, or flies. They are extraordinary insects that predate dinosaurs by more than 100 million years and birds by some 150 million. In fact, a fossilized dragonfly from 250 million years ago was found to have a wingspan of 28 inches! Check out these 10 amazing facts about dragonflies.
Easily recognized for their rather ethereal beauty, the “dragon” portion of their name comes from their fierce jaws that they use to catch their flying prey. The “fly” portion of their name is apt – they are the world’s fastest insects, capable of reaching speeds of up to 60 mph. They have other colorful, descriptive names: “mosquito hawks” because they catch and eat so many mosquitoes and “devil’s darning needle” reflecting their unique body shape.
Dragonflies and their smaller counterparts, damselflies, feed on insects such as gnats, mosquitoes, midges, flies, butterflies, moths, and even other, usually smaller, dragonflies. Near water, they will eat anything small enough that moves – water beetles, small fishes, salamander larvae and smaller dragonfly larvae. They don’t suck blood and they don’t bite or sting humans.
Why are these insects beneficial to the gardener? In addition to being predators of a number of insect pests, their appetite for mosquitoes alone provides a more comfortable and safer environment in which to garden.
To encourage them to visit your garden, put in a small pond – even a wooden half barrel can work. Locate it so it’s protected from wind and gets midday sun. Ideally, it should vary in depth, shallow at the edges and at least two feet deep in the center and include a variety of water plants. If possible, put a few flat rocks near the pond’s edge. Dragonflies like to warm up by basking in the sun, and it gives them a good place to be on the lookout for their favored food – mosquitoes.
If you’re fortunate enough to have these lovely creatures in your garden, enjoy their beauty and help protect their environment.