Creature From The Distant Past- The Dragonfly
Author: Renie Burghardt
On the sunny days of the warm months, while I'm out tending to my vegetable garden, or strolling around the pond, I'm often accompanied by winged hunters that cruise back and forth in their never ending search for food. Recently, when I managed to kill a fly that had landed on my arm, while a dragonfly circled about, I decided to throw the fly in the air to see what would happen. Just as I suspected, the dragonfly zoomed in and caught the fly in mid air, devouring its juices with great relish. Then he circled around me, as if expecting another treat!
In the prehistoric jungles of 280-350 millions of years ago, when trees were towering giants, dragonflies as big as hawks soared through the air. Their prehistoric remains have been found in the Permian rocks of Kansas, in the Jurassic formations of Siberia and many other parts of the world. With wings nearly thirty inches from tip to tip, they were the largest insects that ever lived.
Indeed, dragonflies, along with cockroaches and silverfish, were one of the earliest insect forms to appear on earth. The dragonfly has lived on as a creature from the distant past to this day, even while the dinosaurs passed into oblivion, and cavemen evolved into modern man. The only thing that changed about the dragonfly was its size. As the giant trees dwarfed, the dragonfly has adapted by shrinking.
The dragonfly is very much a creature of the air and of the sun. Although it has legs, which are spine-bordered and bunched forward, so it can cling and climb, it never walks. But in the air, a dragonfly is as graceful as a ballet dancer, while it swoops, turns, and zooms about at will. It can dive like a small plane, or hover like a helicopter, as long as the sun is shining.
Most dragonflies need the sun to fly, (except for one Oriental species that hunts at night,) and will alight even when the sun goes behind a cloud for a few minutes. Recently, while I was picking ripe tomatoes in the garden, a dragonfly circled around me curiously. Suddenly, the sun went behind a cloud,
and the dragonfly instantly alighted on a near-by weed. I reached out and caught it, and it sat on my finger undisturbed, while I examined it closely. Then the cloud passed by, the sunshine returned, and the little dragonfly leaped into the air and darted off after some annoying gnats that had gathered about.
Dragonflies scoop up their victims with their legs, sucking their bodies dry and letting the carcasses fall to the ground. Dragonflies are beneficial insects, keeping the populations of pests like mosquitoes down. Unfortunately, their nymphs are popular fish bait, so much so, that in some parts they are in danger of becoming extinct!
The dragonfly has eyes that contain as many lenses as the eyes of several thousand men. Its head is attached to the slender body in a way that the dragonfly can turn its head almost completely around, so it can see below as well as above him. The wings, which are veined and transparent, can move as much as twenty-eight times a second, carrying it through the air at speeds of about sixty miles an hour!
Dragonflies are distributed throughout much the world, with about 5000 species living today, around 500 in North America. The dragonfly is an aquatic insect, and has two stages in its life cycle-the aquatic and the adult. In the adult stages, the male and female mate, and then the female deposits her eggs in the water, which will turn into nymphs. After mating,the male dragonfly remains near the female to make sure no other males mate with her. He is ensuring that his genetics remain pure in the next generation.
The nymphs of the dragonfly, which usually live in water, are carnivores, even devouring each other and destroying newly emerged adults before their wings had a chance to harden and fly off into the sun. Most smaller dragonfly nymphs spend a year in the water, the larger varieties can be there for as long as two to three years. The transformation from underwater nymph to dragonfly is amazing. Usually it happens in the heat of the day, with a few exceptions. The wet dragonfly climbs from the water and clings to the bank, or a stick, or weed. As it does so, the suit of chitin armor splits and the damp, crumpled wings unfold. Then, as the glistening coat hardens in the bright sunshine, the dragonfly darts into the air, leaving behind a brown translucent shell. As much a miracle of Nature, as the transformation of a butterfly!
The adult dragonfly has a short life span.
It lives just long enough to mature and mate. In the Northern states the
first cold of fall kills them off. Only the nymphs remain in their underwater
home, carrying on the chain of life, just as they had in the long ago past.
For a dragonfly, life and death are simple and direct, and the glittering
wings cease beating in the numbing of autumn cold. But through the miracle
of Nature, the nymphs will again shed their armor, and take to wing in the
sunshine, and we will once again reap the benfit of their voracious appetites.
Trademark © 1996-2008 Alice Kitselman owner - Dragonfly Dream TM