What can streak like a fighter plane, hover like a helicopter, dive like a falcon and eat its lunch on the fly? It's not a bird, it's not a plane, it's a dragonfly! Dragonflies are insects of the sunny summer, seen most often flying over ponds and open fields, or similar places such as streams and power line cuts.
White-spangled skimmer (Libellula cyanea)
Dragonfly watching can be as exciting as bird watching or butterfly watching. The aerial acrobatics of these beautiful creatures are breathtaking. If you see a dragonfly take a sudden turn, hover briefly and then land on a twig or rock, take a closer look. You may catch it munching down a morsel, a smaller insect, occasionally even a smaller dragonfly.

Amberwing (Perithemis tenera)
Like ladybeetles, dragonflies are predaceous both as immatures and as adults. The young dragonfly, called a nymph, lives and breathes underwater, devouring other aquatic animals. It nabs its prey with an extensible lower jaw, a lightning-fast "lip-trap." Large nymphs may consume tadpoles or even small fish! When the nymph has grown enough to become an adult dragonfly, it crawls up a plant stem or other object projecting from the water.

Freshly emerged (teneral) dragonfly, probably a blue pirate (Pachydiplax longipennis)
Once out of the water, the nymph breaks out of its old skin and expands its wings and abdomen to become a very different creature, a young adult dragonfly. Such young dragonflies remain tender and vulnerable for up to several weeks; this condition is known as "teneral." Eventually their bodies and wings stiffen and gain strength. Then a dragonfly will begin its active adult life, feeding on flying insects, including loads of mosquitoes and biting flies. Dragonflies pair up in a sort of circular loop, and most fly hooked or close together, the female laying eggs in waters of ponds or streams.

But sometimes a dragonfly will get confused. Recently in a shopping center parking lot, we saw a female skimmer laying eggs on the windows and hoods of cars, apparantly mistaking the reflective surfaces for water!

Arrowhead spiketail (Cordulegaster obliqua)
Illustrated here are nine species of dragonfly found in the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada. Most of them can be seen in the summer months in habitats close and familiar to most residents of this area of the continent.

Twelve-spot skimmer (Libellula pulchella)
Skimmers are among the most common and widespread dragonflies, easily observed around ponds and lakes, at the edges of woodlands, in forest clearings and along power line cuts and woodland paths.

Four-spot skimmer (Libellula quadrimaculata)
The name "skimmer" refers to their habit of skimming the surface of ponds as they patrol for emerging mosquitoes and other insect prey.

The widow (Libellula luctuosa)
Darners are large, energetic dragonflies, frustrating to photograph because they hardly ever land. A darner occasionally can be found resting on a shrub or tree branch, and observed closely if approached slowly and quietly. Spotting the resting insect is the problem; despite its bright clolors, one can be nearly invisible against vegetation.

Blue darner (Aeschna mutata)
Most darners are marked with bright blue or green, there are a few brown ones marked with yellow, and in the south, a spectacular red species.

Green darner (Anax junius)

Article by Spider Barbour. Photographs by Anita F. Barbour

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