Monthly Feature: Species 101: Dragonflies

Blue Dasher

 Calico Pennant

 Twelve-Spotted Skimmer

Photos Credits to Pam Wolter

Dragonflies are considered to be one of the oldest ancient insects, with 325 million year old fossils found with wing spans reaching 30 inches. They flew before and during the dinosaur time period. They are aggressive predators both during much of their lifespan spent under the water or while flying.

They begin life on the water when the female deposits eggs on the surface or injects her eggs into aquatic plants. Depending on the species, they can live one to six years under water as nymphs, then spend several weeks flying, typically near the water.

They can daily eat hundreds of mosquitoes both as larvae and when winged. They eat other aquatic insects, small fish and tadpoles. They need better than average water quality to thrive. They will molt 9-16 times, then will crawl out of the water onto a stem, reed or rock for the final molting. Once they dry, they are fully functioning fliers that capture their prey 95% of the time due to their nearly 360-degree eyesight and over 30,000 lenses on their magnificent compound eyes.

Their aerial maneuvers are spectacular as their four wings can move independently as they fly up, down, forward, back and can stop to hover. They have been clocked at just under 40 miles per hour.

Five species migrate, with the common Green Darner, the most recognizable. A decedent may return in the early spring, typically in mid-April. The largest populations are resident species that emerge in June, then can be seen in July and August, with some living until early to mid-September, but June, July and early August are the best viewing months for this fun to watch and photograph flier. In the fall, mass migrations can sometimes be spotted hitting your windshield and covering roadways.

Iowa Odes has 75 species listed for Iowa. To view other dragonflies or to learn more about them, go to

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