The mythological dragon and the dragonfly navigating Cleveland Metroparks wetlands are both predators, but the similarity stops there. Although the dragonfly is real and the fire-breathing lizard is not, more people can describe the appearance of a dragon for you. Hmm… My gut tells me this trend is changing!
Living fossils, dragonflies are part of the most ancient group of insects on this planet. Taxonomically, the 300-million year old group comprises the insect order Odonata. Around the world there are 3,000 species of dragonflies described to science. Usually found near water, dragonflies fly almost effortlessly with their two sets of long transparent wings. One field trait to note about the dragonfly is that at rest, the strong wings are outstretched similar to that of a moth. This is in contrast to their cousin, the damselfly, whose wings extend vertically to the rear. Their multihued elongate bodies are as colorful as the rainbow, usually displaying an iridescent shimmer best on a sunny day. The dragonfly comes equipped with awkward looking compound eyes. They are huge! These eyes enable them with nearly a 360° field of view. Dragonflies are top-notch pilots, flying both forward and backward with amazing speed.
|Our very own common green darner is among the world’s fastest flying insects clocking in at over 35 mph. Now is your chance to spot one, as they are common and widespread from mid-April through October. |
Throughout spring and summer, dragonflies emerge and take wing from their exclusively-aquatic larval (nymph) stage. Nymphs do not bite or sting humans. In fact they are valued predators because they help control harmful insects, like our too friendly mosquito.
The adult dragonfly (flying form) is also a valued predator, catching many nuisance invertebrates on the wing with its aerial combat skills. If you happen to stumble upon this prehistoric creature, feel free to step closer to the action with curious eyes. Dragonflies are non-stinging insects. Now you know when and where to find these speedy creatures; enlighten your next hike. There’s a flying dragon out there!