Theyre not dragons, and theyre
not flies. But however inaptly
theyre named, the stunt pilots
of the insect world are attentiongetters.
They wear flashy colors; dart at speeds
of up to 30 mph; boast ancestors that
predate dinosaurs; mate in midair.
Aggressive predators and carnivores,
theyre out for bloodbut not yours.
Whats not to love?
Not much, a swelling fan base has decided,
on national wildlife refuges and beyond.
A crop of new field guides, mounting
attendance at dragonfly festivals, and
the spread of online dragonfly photos
and other information all point one way:
People are fascinated with finding
dragonflies and damselfliestheir
biological cousins, says David True, refuge
ranger at Aransas National Wildlife
Refuge in Texas. It is a growing thing.
Bruce Lund, with the Friends of the
Desert National Wildlife Refuge Complex
in Nevada, agrees. He credits rising
interest, in part, to two popular new field
guides by zoologist Dennis Paulson and
new state guides that help dragonfly
enthusiasts identify their finds. Then
there are the viewerfriendly habits of
the insects themselves.
People are attracted to these insects
because they are big [compared to
other insects], colorful, and active in
daytime, says Lund, who leads periodic
refuge dragonfly tours. They perch for
long periods and keep returning to the
same perches, making them easier to
photograph than butterflies, which stop
less often and less predictably. Adults
and children also like dragonflies fanciful
names: vivid dancer, sparkling jewelwing,
furtive forktail, stygian shadowdragon,
harlequin darner, dragonhunter, ebony
boghaunter are some highlighted on a
fact sheet at Aransas Refuge.
For their parts, refuges are happy to
host dragonflies not just because theyre
native wildlife but because theyre
natural mosquito controls and indicators
of clean water. Dragonflies are generally
most abundant in mid to late summer.
Dragonflies and damselflies are members
of the biological order odonata, meaning
toothed ones. (They dont have teeth;
dont ask me why theyre called that,
Refuges known for dragonflies include:
Bitter Lake Refuge, NM. The refuge
plans to host its 12th annual dragonfly
festival on September 78. Last years
festival, which also celebrated the
refuges 75th anniversary, drew more
than 2,000 people, up from the usual
1,000 or so. More than 100 dragonfly or
damselfly species have been spotted on
the refuge, including the rare bleached
skimmer. Peak dragonfly viewing is in
July and August.
Patoka River Refuge, IN. Refuge
wetlands host 30 species of dragonflies
and 13 species of damselflies, including
some rare kinds, a 2009 survey found.
Three miles of refuge trails lead visitors
through habitats where dragonflies
can be seen. The Halloween pennant
dragonfly, named for its orange and black
wings, can be found at almost any refuge
oxbow or wetland from midJune through
Aransas Refuge, TX. Dragonfly species
there include red saddlebags and
Desert Refuge Complex, NV. The
complex, which includes Ash Meadows,
Desert, Moapa Valley and Pahranagat
Refuges, recently completed surveys of
its dragonflies and damselflies. Biologists
and volunteers documented 35 dragonfly
species, including two found in Nevada
for the first time.
Susan Morse is a writereditor in the
Refuge System Branch of
Did You Know?
- Dragonflies have two sets of wings, which they flap at about 30 beats per second.
- Dragonflies have huge compound eyes, which give them almost 360degree vision.
- Dragonflies develop a taste for meat early. As nymphs, they snack on water
insects, worms, mosquito larvae and small fish.
- Dragonflies dont have stingers and cant harm you. Myths abound about