Photography by Jessica Turner.
When neighbor Alexey Ershov recently posted his gorgeous dragonfly photos on Nextdoor, he evidently touched an Odonata nerve. With over 150 comments and more than 400 “likes,” East Dallas clearly loves and values these fascinating insects dating back to prehistoric times as beautiful, beneficial and for some, mystical.
“I went photo-hunting for water birds around White Rock Lake and, unexpectedly, I ran into a mesmerizing little neon-red creature sitting on a green reed plant,” Ershov says. “And when it took off, it was so fast, like a red bullet. The dragonfly immediately drew my attention, and I totally forgot about the birds I was supposed to photograph.”
Totally understandable to many, including our favorite urban wildlife biologist Sam Kieschnick, who enthusiastically describes dragonflies as “amazing.”
Just a side note on terminology: The order Odonata includes two suborders, dragonflies and damselflies, the latter being smaller and more delicate. Both are abundant in the neighborhood. With apologies to all damselflies reading this, they will be lumped into the term “dragonfly” for this story.
The huge compound eyes of these critters cover most of the head area and can see in every direction except directly behind. They have an extendible mandible — similar to the creature in the movie “Alien” — to quickly snatch food. And their flying ability? Incredibly, these expert aerialists can fly as fast as 35 mph and go forward, backward, up and down, hover for extended periods and perform somersaults.
Kieschnick says this is a great time of year to see dragonflies. “The warmer the day, the more active and abundant dragonflies are,” Kieschnick says. “Granted, you can see dragonflies almost throughout the year, even on some warmer winter days, but they’re most abundant during the summer.” Around here, you’re likely to spot the Eastern pondhawk, widow skimmer, blue dasher and the common blue darner.
Where to look? “The best place to see them is close to water — either by a pond, creek, river or even a drainage ditch that contains some water,” Kieschnick says. “They have the aquatic nymph stage, so the adults may be emerging or laying eggs in these spots.”
Keep in mind that dragonflies are most active when the sun is out, so Kieschnick recommends late morning or afternoon as ideal times to glimpse these insects.
Don’t be surprised if they hover near as though studying you. “They may notice our movements and out of curiosity, get a bit closer,” Kieschnick says. “Some may land on us, especially if you’re able to stay still for a while, but they’re quite harmless. As a matter of fact, they may even be pursuing some of the mosquitoes flying nearby.”
Yes, these beauties are beneficial to us humans. They feast on what’s bugging us: mosquitoes. Neighbor Judy Meagher welcomes the sight of these amazing creatures.
“My yard is full of dragonflies,” says Meagher, a master naturalist, entomology specialist and docent at Texas Discovery Garden. “They are evident at dusk when they’re flying back and forth over the yard in the search of insects to eat. One dragonfly can eat up to 300 mosquitoes a day.”
University Meadows neighbor Hance Burrow can attest to dragonflies’ pest control abilities. “I jokingly call them my army of dragonflies, because they patrol my pool and eat the mosquitoes,” Burrow says. “I have gone mostly organic over the past number of years, so I have some wildlife in the backyard. I can see up to 15 to 25 at a time patrolling the pool area.
“Friends have commented on the number of dragonflies and noted the lack of mosquito bites,” Burrow adds. “I have not used insect spray on myself and have probably only been bitten once or twice this summer.”
If you’re interested in attracting dragonflies, Meagher has advice. “Dragonflies, like many of our insects, are suffering from loss of habitat and pesticide use,” she says. “The use of native plants which attract insects and not using pesticides can help all of our insects.”
“If you have some water features in your landscaping, then adding in some aquatic vegetation is ideal for dragonflies,” Kieschnick says. “This allows other aquatic invertebrates to thrive, so that’s crucial for dragonflies too.”
Neighbors find them not only lovely and helpful but mystical as well. In several dragonfly discussions on East Dallas-centric social media sites, a good number of folks have chimed in with their belief that dragonflies visiting their yards are actually deceased relatives in another form flitting by to say hello.
These prehistoric insects have long been part of folklore all over the world, and many see them as a sign of purity or good luck. Whether or not you believe that Eastern pondhawk in your yard to be a winged four-leaf clover or dear, old, departed Aunt Agnes, it’s hard not to find dragonflies fascinating. As Kieschnick says, “They are quite charming!”
PATTI VINSON is a guest writer who has lived in East Dallas for more than 20 years. She’s written for the Advocate and Real Simple magazine.