The Jeweled Acrobats

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Dragonflies are some of the oldest insects on earth. These beautiful animals took to the air long before dinosaurs walked the earth and were enormous---- the largest having a wingspan of two and a half feet! However, today, you may only encounter a “large” dragonfly at only three inches long. Lucas County is home to approximately 95 species of Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) and Ohio has more than 150 species, with interesting names like “Dragonhunter,” “Dasher,” “Darner,” and “Clubtail.” 

Reaching speeds of 30 mph, these glittery aerialists can hover, dive, pivot 360 degrees and fly backwards and upside down. Lightning fast speed, impressive flight skills, and voracious appetites combine to make adult dragonflies valuable predators to crop pests and other harmful insects. But, the transition to adulthood is not quick or easy. Immature dragonfly nymphs spend months underwater, sometimes even three to five years. As nymphs, they must seize every opportunity to feed. These odd-looking eating machines have hooked lower lips that work like spear guns to shoot and retrieve passing prey such as mosquito larvae and other aquatic insects. Nymphs need surrounding plant life to climb out of the water, dry their emerging wings, and begin their new lives as adults. 

As indicators of clean water, dragonflies are only found in healthy environments and protected habitat is critical for their survival in northwest Ohio. At Wiregrass Lake, Metroparks volunteers survey dragonfly and damselfly species. This important site in the Oak Openings Region, offers wetland, pond/shoreline, forest and prairie and is home to more than 50 species that use the site for hunting and breeding. Through plans for more habitat connections within the Oak Openings corridor and wet prairie restorations with removal of buckthorn and other woody invasive species, Metroparks continues to provide and improve habitat for these shimmering, winged athletes to continue their lifecycle in the water and on land. 

Did you know? You can contribute to important knowledge of Odonata in Ohio by adding your photos to the iNaturalist project via this link:

https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/ohio-dragonfly-survey-ohio-odonata-survey 

Photos: Volunteer dragonfly monitor, Kim Smith

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