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Living Sanibel: Dragonflies are one of the most adroit flying insects

By Staff | Oct 14, 2015

Swarms of dragonflies are spotted in the spring and early summer months. PHOTO BY HUNG V

At certain times of the year, especially in the spring and early summer, massive swarms of these aerial insects will appear in upland areas such as the Bailey Tract of “Ding” Darling Wildlife Sanctuary. Literally thousands of dragonflies can be seen at once, dashing about feeding on a mass emergence of prey (commonly called “a hatch”) well into twilight.

The color and pattern variations of this beautiful insect are nothing short of astounding, in many ways rivaling the sheer beauty of butterflies. They range from iridescent blue to a deep, scarlet red, to pink, and gold to jet black. Their names are equally diverse; the Emperor, Keeled Skimmer, Azure Hawker, Roseate Skimmer and Green Darner. Watching them pursue and capture their prey, which ranges from mosquitos, moths, bees and flies, is enthralling. They are one of the most adroit flying insects in the world, capable of sharp turns, instant ascents and descents and stunning agility. Adult dragonflies are capable of propelling themselves in six directions: upward, downward, forward, backward and side to side. Only the hummingbird rivals them in flying prowess.

Worldwide, there are currently more than 6,500 species of dragonflies. Most of them live in the tropical and subtropical regions of the planet, but there are some 425 species that reside in North America. While no one has an accurate number of how many dragonfly species reside on Sanibel and Captiva, the number is probably in the dozens.

Considered beneficial for their ability to feast on mosquitoes and biting flies, the dragonfly is revered for its swiftness and agility by the Native Americans. In Japan dragonflies symbolize “martial success.” Japanese children catch large dragonflies as a game, using a thin thread or hair attached to a very small pebble. When they toss the tiny pebble up into the air, the dragonflies mistake it for prey, become entangled in the hair and fall back down to earth with the weight of the stone. The children then release them and toss the stone again, continuing the game.

The jeweler Louis Comfort Tiffany used dragonflies as a motif for stained glass, with his dragonfly lamp being the most famous of all of his artistic creations.

Dragonflies mating. PHOTO BY HUNG V

Birds of prey, including the swallowtail kite, are known to feed on dragonflies. Their nymphs are heavily preyed upon by frogs, fish and even immature alligators. Look for them down Island Inn Road, in the Pick Preserve as well as near the Indigo trail in “Ding” and the cemetery on Captiva. The photographs herein are of several species you might find on Sanibel and Captiva.

This is an excerpt from Living Sanibel – A Nature Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.