In late summer, early fall, the air over our pond resembles Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The dragonflies, damselflies and skimmers–all of the insect order Odonata, maneuver deftly over the water. Some 430 species of Odonata are found in the US and Canada. Since their juvenile form, called naiads, are aquatic, our large pond hosts many families of these fascinating and attractive insects. Every year I learn to identify a few more.
Earlier in the summer, the skimmers and others crawl out of the water as mature naiads, hoisting themselves out into the terrestrial world on cattail stalks and other partially submerged plants. One year I had the great fortune of observing a dragonfly adult crawl from within the cracked open naiad “shell”, unfurl and dry it’s wings. This occurred over the course of several hours as I weeded nearby. When it flew off, I was amazed at the opportunity to witness a portion of what is termed incomplete metamorphosis–what luck and timing. The fall before, the female parent had laid it’s eggs, either directly in or over the water. What an intriguing life cycle.
This time of year is mating season, and the aerial movements are more erratic than the usual darting and angling to catch insect prey. The males and females, connected together, can be seen awkwardly moving from the air to the lawn and amongst the thick foliage that rings the pond. Their love dance hinders their normally deft flight.
Various species of Odonata hunt amongst my garden beds, in addition to the natives along the water. They search for a meal of caterpillars and other insects, sometimes themselves falling prey to an orb weaver spider with a cleverly placed web. When I see damselflies on flower heads, I wonder if they are enjoying pollen or nectar between insect snacks.
As the season progresses, I find the difficult to catch (both in hand and with a camera) Odonata in various stages of death on the ground. I always stop to admire it, tinged with a bit of sadness in witnessing such an amazing creature expire. As it dies, the gorgeous, iridescent colors fade from it’s body, as the life force wanes. With my camera lens I seek to immortalize it.
© Colleen Miko, 2012