The Dragonfly

by NormaJean Weeks

The name Dragonfly comes from the fierce jaws used for ripping apart their prey. Other names in different locations are: darning needle (folklore says they will sew shut your eye lids and lips), mosquito hawk or skeeter hawk (comes from the many mosquitoes they eat), snake doctor or snake feeder (because it was thought they took care of snakes). Dragonflies are an aquatic insect. They are different from damselflies who fold their wings up. Dragonflies hold their wings outstretched. The female, and sometimes the male also, place her eggs on the under side of submerged leaves after mating. Sometimes the eggs are placed on vegetation by the side of water sites which dies and falls into the water. In 2 weeks they hatch but maturity can take from 3 to 5 years. It takes up to 1 month for the brilliant colors to emerge. The adult lives for only a few months.

The dragonflies eyes have thousands of side units with 28,000 lenses. They can see 20 feet away.

There are 3 pairs of legs, but the dragonflies cannot walk. They use their legs to rest on twigs, etc. and to scoop up their prey in flight. Then they rip off pieces and chew their prey in flight.

Mating is done in tandem position while in flight or resting on leaves and twigs. Mating can take a few seconds or several hours depending on species. Males are very territorial and often stay attached to the female while she lays the eggs. Sometimes the males submerge with the female as she lays eggs. Dragonflies can stay submerged breathing oxygen from the water that enters gills along the thorax. They do not need to surface as they shoot the water out of the gills. They can also shoot water out of their anus to propel them away from enemies ... jet propulsion.

The dragonfly is an ancient insect, living 300 million years before dinasaurs. The early dragonfly was much larger than today's. A fossil in a coal mine in England had a wingspan of 8 inches. Many had a span of 2 feet. The largest found was 212 feet. Through all these years, although smaller, the dragonfly remains much the same as in the past.

Hopefully we all will see many of the brilliant flying jewels skimming across our ponds this summer.

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