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Dragonflies

Saffron-winged Meadowhawk "I tell people dragonfly watching is better than bird watching," said Cynthia Berger, "because for birding, you have to get up pretty early when it's miserable out. But dragonflies are solar powered -- they're cold blooded -- so when it gets nice and warm, just walk around a body of water to find dragonflies" (online story by John Hayes-Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 4/19/2009).
 

 

What Are?

 Twelve-spotted SkimmerThe title of this page is somewhat misleading. Yes, the generic, familiar term "dragonfly" can connote both dragonfly and damselfly, but they are classified (in a taxonomic sense) separately. Damselflies belong to the same taxonomic Order as dragonflies, Odonata (or odonates informally), but are in a different Suborder Zygoptera (meaning "yoked wings", 2 sets of wings of same shape). Similar to, but different from damselfly are dragonfly which belong to the Suborder Anisoptera (meaning "unlike wings", the rear set of wings is differently shaped than the front). The groups also differ in how they hold their wings at rest and whether the two compound eyes Lyre-tipped Spreadwingphysically touch (small number of exceptions). The differences apply to the adult stage of both groups and not the nymph stage which is aquatic. The nymph stages can last from several months to several years before metamorphosis to adult form. Both adult and nymph forms are predacious insects. There are 453 species of odonates in North America and roughly 5680 worldwide. These animals are fast fliers; they average 10 mph cruising with bursts of speed to 34 miles/hour. Rarely do they eat insects as large as butterflies; some species specialize in eating other odonates! Of course, odonates are eaten by a host of other animals: birds, frogs, fish, aquatic invertebrates, etc.

 

Where Are?

Band-winged MeadowhawkThe life cycle of odonates are centered on wetlands, both still and riverine waters. For the most part they are resident as adults, i.e. they don't migrate. Foraging can take place far from wetland areas. This is especially true for odonates that have recently morphed from nymph to immature adult. Within the broad definition of wetland, look for odonates flying over waters and/or perched on nearby vegetation (grasses, sedges, flowers, shrubs, trees). Each species has different behaviors or habits, once learned by you, will make discovery of these creatures in specific habitat niches easier.

 

When to Look

Pacific ForktailFinding different species requires knowledge of their ecology and life cycle. Many species "emerge" (metamorphosis from larval to adult form) at specific times of the year (spring through fall). The adults may live only several days to at most a couple of months. So it is critical to know these "flight periods" in order to find them. Even within flight periods finding adults can be difficult because time of day and weather determine odonate activity; sunny and 60 F are minimums for dragonfly to be visibly active.

 

Refuge Hotspots

Common Green DarnerWater areas in the public use areas are all good for odonate viewing. Specifically, the area around the Refuge Headquarters (edge of Pond 6, Aquatic Education Pond, Pollinator Garden) is good for a variety of species. Wildfowl Lane between Ponds 5 & 6 is also good for dragonfly watching. The trails in the Wildlife Viewing Area are very good for finding "meadowhawks" and other odonates. Beyond the Refuge, this State of Montana publication by Nate Kohler is an excellent guide for your efforts.
 

Last Updated: Feb 20, 2014
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