A large iridescent peacock-colored dragonfly darted around me the other morning as I watered my ferns and geraniums on the courtyard patio. Perhaps he was looking for water?
Dragonflies used to be a common sight as they zipped through my summer gardens. Time was when August brought them out to taste one thing or another among herbs and zinnias. Now they’ve become as scarce as honey bees and Monarchs. Why? Loss of wetland habitat due to deforestation, river damming, silting streambeds, not to mention pollutants from modern manufacturing and, yes, professional garden spraying services.
Evolving some 300 millions years ago, the earliest dragonfly species hatched underwater. They still do. When the larvae hatch into nymphs or naiads, they live underwater for up to two years and molt up to 17 times as they mature. Usually nymphs are a well-camouflaged blend of a dull brown with green and grey. When they’re reading to emerge as adults, they crawl out onto a rock or plant stem to molt one final time. As they dry out over several hours, their structural coloration produces iridescent or metallic blues and greens, sometimes with a yellow pigment, or a combination of yellow, red, brown, and black pigments, transforming into the magical garden fairies we know as dragonflies
According to Mother Nature Network (MNN.com > Home > Organic Farming & Gardening), dragonflies bear two pairs of gossamer wings. Muscles in the thorax work each wing individually to change the angle. The dragonfly can fly at lightening speed in any direction, as the hummingbird and the hummingbird moth do, even hovering mid-air, to zoom in on unsuspecting prey such as gnats and mosquitoes and biting flies.
As a child growing up in the American Deep South, I learned from my grandmother to say “Mosquito Hawk” rather than “dragonfly” because of its fast-flying ambush acrobatics while on the hunt for mosquitoes. It appeared to zoom-zoom in zig-zag fashion over our gardens.
To attract visiting dragonflies into your garden, provide sources of still water, such as a deep water dish or birdbath, with a rock or small garden sculpture for a landing spot. Or you can create a backyard pond habitat planted with grasses and sedges, or lily pads.
“Almost any kind of water source or a diversity of plants both in the water and landscape will do” in the home garden, says John Abbott, chief curator and director of Museum Research and Collections at the University of Alabama. He offers a check list:
- Water source
- Water feature(s) must deep, not shallow
- Mosquito dunk containing Bt israeliensis, big floating tablets that dissolve and target mosquitoes but not beneficial insects
- Places to perch
- Diverse plant life
For detailed information, check out BACKYARD PONDS:Guidelines for Creating & Managing Habitat for Dragonflies and Damselflies at http://www.migratorydragonflypartnership.org/uploads/_ROOT/
For another look at a clear-wing dragonfly and late summer Swallowtails and a Common Buckeye, check out My Cottage Garden (