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Flying Damsels and Dragons: Dragonflies in the Garden

dragonfly

Each morning, as I go out to feed the animals, I have the pleasure of watching beautiful swarms of dragonflies playing in the yard. From a distance, you see them buzzing around quickly darting back and forth as if they are playing a game of tag, their wings shimmering in the sunlight. It is such a beautiful and peaceful way to start the day. I started wondering what am I doing right to attract so many dragonflies to our yard? I know they tend to stay close to water, which we have plenty of, they eat mosquitoes, again, we have plenty of and they enjoy the nectar of native plants. Insects are not my favorite creatures but I have always enjoyed watching dragonflies. I decided to learn a bit more about these interesting insects.

Dragonflies & damselflies are in the insect order Odonata. There are over 450 species or families of dragonflies in the US alone and 6 here in Florida that are easily identified by their field marks and colors.  Dragonflies are generally larger than damselflies, with large eyes that touch and when at rest their wings are held out from their bodies. They are fast fliers reaching speeds up to 35 mph. Damselflies are smaller; do not fly as well or as long as dragonflies, tending to stay close to the water surface with their wings close to their sides when they are resting.

Dragonfly

Dragonflies have a huge appetite for mosquitoes, flies, aphids, grasshoppers and other pests. Generally, when you see a swarm of dragonflies they are feasting on pests, which is a plus in my book. The majority of dragonflies have short life spans averaging six months for most species while some of the larger species can live up to five years. Damselflies have a much shorter life span from 2 weeks to four months. It is interesting that 95 percent of their lives are spent in the water. Like a mosquito, dragonflies lay their larvae in a pond where the larvae feed off tadpoles & insects. Eventually the larvae crawl onto vegetation such as a lily pad where they transform to adulthood dragonflies.

 

What do you need to do to attract dragonflies?

dragonfly on lotusSimply add water to your garden. It does not have to be a large pond. A small container water garden or wetland would be enough to attract them. The ideal dragonfly water garden would have different depths with the deepest area in the center for a water lily and submerged plants, rock on the bottom with a bit of sediment, shallower edges to hold native bog plants like bull rushes and grasses. Do not add fish to your water garden if you want to attract dragonflies. Koi & goldfish will eat the dragonfly larvae. Be sure to include native aquatic and wetland plants as well as native nectar landscape plants. Light colored rocks, sticks; hollowed logs create perfect perches along the pond edge. When following these tips, you will not only attract dragonflies but also butterflies, frogs, birds and other wildlife to your garden.

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Reference: santarosa.ifas.ufl.edu 

Photo Credits: Bahman Farzad via photopin cc
Puzzler4879 via photopin cc

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