With more than 11,000 inland lakes and more than 36,000 miles of streams, one is never more than six miles from a lake or stream in our state. Add in thousands of acres of swamps & marshes, bogs & fens, and the result is an abundance of habitat for members of the insect order known as Odonata- those spectacular & colorful creatures that can hover, fly backwards and reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour.
Currently, there are 162 species of the insect order Odonata (dragonflies) and 46 species of the suborder Zygoptera (damselflies) that have been recorded in Michigan. Odonata, which literally means 'toothed jawed', are one of the most ancient insects, appearing in the fossil record of 300 million years ago. Some of these ancient dragonflies were much larger than present species and had wingspans of up to 2 1/2 feet. Presently there are approximately 5,000 species recognized worldwide with roughly 435 species of dragonflies and damselflies found in North America.
Odonata have 3 body parts: head, thorax and abdomen. They have 6 legs and 4 wings. Damselflies are small, fly weakly and at rest hold their wings folded together or over the body outwards at a 45 degree angle. Dragonflies are larger, have stronger flight, and at rest hold their wings horizontally.
Odonata have a three-part life cycle which consists of egg, larva (also called nymph or naiad), and adult. The larva hatch from eggs laid in water, or among aquatic plants & along the banks of rivers. Dragonflies spend most of their lives in the larval stage where they live underwater as predators. When development is complete and the larva is ready to emerge, it undergoes an incredible metamorphosis that is nothing short of fascinating. Once mature, adult dragonflies are very active near most wetlands. Some species of males establish fixed territories for feeding and mating, and will actively defend their territories by chasing other males and females. I recently discovered that some species, especially the meadowhawks and gliders, will fly to my outstretched palm and perch on it as they would a warm stone. Hand-holding dragonflies is great fun and adds to the overall enjoyment of observing these wonderful insects.
Dragonflies are true masters of the air. Their four wings are sometimes capable of beating independently and all dragonflies have a spot (stigma) near the tip of each wing that is thought to act as a tiny weight that dampens wing vibrations. They have the largest eyes of any insect with nearly 30,000 lenses, so they can see in all directions except to rear. They see colors, including ultraviolet. Their eyes can also detect rapid movements such as beating wings that are just a blur to humans and they can also see in very low light.
Dragonflies are not only harmless, they are actually quite beneficial to humans. They consume large amounts of mosquitoes, biting flies and other pests. Odonata are a good indicator of the health of the environment. Protecting our rivers, lakes and marshes from contaminants and pollutants not only ensures clean water for ourselves, but it is crucial for wetland habitats that dragonflies and damselflies call home.
My odonata image gallery can be viewed here.
The Odonate SiteRing
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