Looking in the Eyes of Dragonflies

I was buzzed by a dragonfly on my way in to work this morning.  I’ve always loved dragonflies.  They are one of the most beautiful and most ancient of living creatures.  Some of them have these incredible wingspans, hover low over the water, and then they seem to vanish in an instant.  The hover and dart routine, I know you’ve seen it. 

I find myself watching them sometimes if I’m not doing much of anything but sitting on the bank of a creek or a lake, mainly because I hear they sting.  I haven’t figured out what they’re doing while they hovering and darting.  Sometimes they just dart in front of your face, hover for a second or two and then dart away.  That’s what the dragonfly did this morning.

I suppose they’re just curious, but it might interest you to know, that whatever they’re doing, they only have 4-6 weeks to do it.  Pretty short life span.  Common in the bug world, I guess.  It’s just hard to imagine with all the effort to metamorphose and learn how to fly like a helicopter and then fly off doing whatever it is you do, that you’re going to pretty much be dead by the end of the month.  It didn’t surprise me, then, that the majority of their time, I found out, is spent looking for female dragonflies to mate with. 

The compound eyes of dragonflies.

Scientifically, and, right, who the hell cares, they’re called Odonata and the Suborder: Anisoptera (dragonflies) and Zygoptera (damselflies).  There are subtle differences between the two, the biggest of which might be the placement of the eyes.  The dragonfly’s eyes almost touch on the top and make up most of the head.  The damselfly’s eyes are noticeably apart.  So now don’t go around ponds, lakes and streams looking in the eyes of dragonflies to see if they’re Zygops or Anisops because, again, who the hell cares and they might sting you. 

Odonata’s start out their lives as larvae and breathe through gills then they actually metamorphose into the adult flying version.  Of course, they’re fish food for most of the time, so survival is a pretty good trick.  Once they emerge, they fly away from the water and hide out in the near-by countryside so they can mature sexually.  I’m not making this up.  They also are taking precautions that the water supply that they were living in might dry up, so they can scout for new locations if the need arises.  And that need to go back to the water arises when they reach their sexual maturity and are looking for dragonfly “chicks”.  Once they find one they can mate for several hours.  

However, the females of the Order Odonata Anisoptera, are known to “sleep around.”  After mating, if she doesn’t run into another male that she likes better, she’ll get to laying eggs, after which she flies off away from the water and doesn’t come back until she’s ready for more.  Sex that is. 

Well odonates have been around for more than 325 million years.  Makes you wonder how they pulled it off.  Seems that the best thing about them is their resilient body shape.  They have 3 pairs of legs which probably help.  They breathe through their abdomens in the flying stage.  That allows for some extreme adaptation to the environment as it changed over time, I guess.  But Darwin also maintained that a species had to find a niche…..Odonates are aerial hunters like no other and no other species has tried to take over their niche successfully. 

Now why did I tell you all that stuff about Dragonflies besides to bore you?  Do a little useless survey around the office.   Ask people if Dragonflies can sting you.  I’ll bet it runs 10-1 or better that they say they don’t know or that they can sting you.  I went around for 42 years believing my mother, who said that Dragonflies can sting you.

This is a blue damselfly.

They don’t sting.  They don’t do anything to otherwise bother humans except maybe hover in your face occasionally.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Looking in the Eyes of Dragonflies

  1. Danny Amira

    If all I had was 4-6 weeks to live it would be all about finding some strange

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