Dragonflies (and damselflies, too)

Frog eating dragonfly ©Janet Allen
Note the remnants of the wing; this injured dragonfly was stuck in the pond, unable to fly

We've enjoyed watching dragonflies and damselflies, comprising the order of Odonata, fly around our yard, as well as raising their young.

As insects, they're fair game for other creatures, such as frogs and birds — if they can catch them.

But they themselves are fierce and effective hunters. Both in their adult and nymph life stages, they eat a lot of insects and their larvae, which is probably why we don't have mosquitos in our yard even though we have two ponds.

They don't nickname them "mosquito hawks" for nothing!

Common green darner ©Janet AllenOne of our favorites: the common green darner

To attract dragonflies and damselflies, experts recommend a pond about 20 feet in diameter and at least two feet deep.

Although that would be ideal, neither our ornamental pond (about 10 feet in diameter) nor our wildlife pond (about 12 feet by 7 feet) meet those requirements, though their maximum depths in the center aren't too much less than two feet.

And having been created with a series of "shelves," they do have varied depths and are shallow at the edges, which is also recommended. (These shallow edges are also important for other wildlife.)

Twelve-spotted skimmer on screen door(Enlarge) ©Janet Allen
Twelve-spotted skimmer on our screen door

Though we didn't plan for this, we're fortunate that our ponds also happened to meet some other requirements: being protected from wind and being in the midday sun.

And after a particularly harsh winter, our ever-multiplying group of 25¢ goldfish died. What at first seemed sad since we had enjoyed their colorful presence became a blessing. It turns out that they eat the odonata nymphs as well as our frog and toad tadpoles. This shouldn't have surprised us, but we were novices in the ways of the aquatic world.

a closeup ©Janet Allen
A dragonfly up close

And as a bonus, our "meadow" area is right next to the ponds so the dragonflies have an insect grocery store readily available.

So even though they may not be ideal dragonfly ponds in terms of size, we've had a variety of dragonflies and damselflies frequenting our ponds and breeding here.

Had we known there was any possibility of having dragonflies in our suburban neighborhood, and had we known how much we enjoy them, we might have designed larger ponds!

Dragonfly perching ©Janet Allen
A dragonfly perching

Dragonflies are very territorial. This hollyhock stalk, left over from the previous summer, was the favorite place for this dragonfly to oversee his territory.

Whenever they spot a competitor, they dart out, protecting their space. They also spend some time patrolling our little ponds.


Damselfly(Enlarge) ©Janet Allen
A damselfly

Before we had a pond and therefore pond creatures, we didn't know there was a difference between dragonflies and damselflies.

Using the Stokes Beginners Guide to Dragonflies, I'm guessing that this one is a male Eastern Forktail.

Although they reproduce in the pond and the nymphs overwinter there, after they emerge, they don't just stick around the pond. I found quite a few on the grasses, such as on this switchgrass.

Identifying our odonata

Dragonfly ©Janet AllenProbably a female dragonfly

One of the challenges in identifying dragonflies is that the females and males look so different. It really doubles the effort to learn to identify them.

The females seem to often have transparent wings with fewer markings than their male counterparts.

At least for those we've been able to photograph and identify, these are the dragonflies we've seen in our yard, and these are the damselflies.

Dragonfly perching ©Janet AllenPerching

One of the identification clues is the perching position.

Since this dragonfly was blue (on the other side, not visible in the photo), in "obelisking" posture, and in its geographic range, I guessed that this might be the Little Blue Dragonlet.

Since then I have discovered the wonders of BugGuide.net and Odonata Central for identification help.