Dragonflies are predators with a history. They are some of the first insects to fly, starting about 300 million years ago.
I was sitting on a pond hoping to catch a glimpse of a sora or a Virginia rail. I swatted the occasional mosquito but was pleased that there weren’t more of them. Hovering right in front of me was part of the answer why. Large dragonflies on the hunt zoomed in like attack helicopters, snatching mosquitoes and other small insects in midflight.
Dragonflies, the original airborne insects, have been flying for over 300 million years. At one time, some ancestors were huge, with wings spanning over two feet. Today, the largest has a wingspan of about six inches and the smallest is less than an inch. Such a wide variation shouldn’t be surprising—there are over 5,000 known species of dragonflies.
Without a doubt, dragonflies are voracious predators. Some of the larger species can eat several hundred mosquitoes a day, making them excellent as one of nature’s checks and balances. However, as ravenous as the adults are, the naiad or nymph stage is even more so. Naiads spend up to two years living in their birth water. There, they consume anything that moves. And that includes tadpoles and small fish. They are six-legged eating machines that don’t look much like the adult.
When it comes time for the naiads to take to wing, they crawl out of the water and cling to a rock or branch. Their skin splits, and in one of the wonders of the world, a completely different looking creature, one with wings, emerges. As adults, they may live from one to six months—long enough to mate and continue the cycle. A few even migrate, and the globe skinner dragonfly holds the record among insects for migration—an 11,000-mile roundtrip across the Indian Ocean.
Dragonflies have several specific advantages that make them such perfect predators. For instance, most of their head is made up of their huge compound eyes that allow them to see in any direction except directly backward.
Coupled with incredible eyesight is an equally incredible ability to fly. Dragonflies are fast—up to 34 miles per hour for some of the larger species and they have cruising speeds between seven and ten miles per hour. In addition to speed, dragonflies can fly up, down, sideways, forward and backward with equal ease because their two pairs of wings operate independently.
I have always been cautious with that long narrow abdomen of a dragonfly. It seemed the perfect housing for a nasty stinger. However, dragonflies don’t have a stinger of any kind. They capture prey in the air, killing larger prey with a bite to the neck and eating smaller prey head first. Despite their formidable skills, they aren’t likely to bite humans unless handled roughly.
There are insects belonging to the same order, Odonata, that look similar to dragonflies. These are damsel flies. They differ in several ways from dragonflies but the most obvious characteristic is wing position during rest. Dragonflies rest with their wings out to the sides while damselflies rest with the wings back over their abdomen.
Dragonflies have probably saved me from hundreds of mosquito bites and for that I am grateful. I would be remiss though if I didn’t admit that I like having dragonflies around just to watch their 300-million-year-old acrobatic flights—something even attack helicopters can’t mimic.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), The Best of Nature is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center (425 Capital)
Perfect Light Photo Supply
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho