May 8, 2019
An Ode to the Odonates
Posted by: Rock Delliquanti
Spring has sprung here on Little St. Simons Island and that means flowers are in bloom and birds are undergoing their incredible migrations. However, it also means the resurgence of an incredible order of acrobatic aerialists: Dragonflies and Damselflies. These two groups of insects are in the order Odonata, and we have over a dozen confirmed species recorded on the island with dozens more that could still be found.
Odonates are an iconic group of insects. They have an easily recognizable silhouette with their elongated abdomens, ethereal sets of wings, massive compound eyes, and their bodies gleam in the sunlight. While dragonflies and damselflies can coexist in the same habitats as one another, eat similar foods, breed in the same areas, they belong to different groups in the order Odonata and differ in a variety of ways morphologically. The easiest way to tell them apart is by how they sit. Damselflies typically rest with their wings held together and above their bodies, whereas dragonflies typically rest with their wings held out and to their sides. While there are always exceptions in nature, this one tip will help you tremendously when you are trying to figure out what you’re looking at.
*Photo of a male Citrine Forktail (Ischnura hastata) provided by Kate Tweedy.
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Odonates live a complex life starting as one of hundreds or thousands of eggs deposited in or very near water. Over the course of one to four weeks, these eggs will typically hatch and odonate larva will emerge and begin their lives as aquatic predators. As larva, the odonates will usually ambush prey and will continuous grow over the course of a few months to a few years. Once they are ready to metamorphose into a flighted adult, they will haul themselves out of the water and emerge from their exoskeleton leaving behind a husk of their former selves. After this emergence, the adult’s body hardens and they’re ready to fly.
Adult odonates, like their larva, are predators. They primarily eat other insects like midges, moths, and mosquitoes. What’s truly incredible is that odonates have a 95% success rate for catching prey which means that when they go hunting for a meal, they almost always get something. Compare this to a lioness, which is successful less than 30% of the time. So not only are these insects eating some of our least favorite pests, but they’re also very good at it.
Photo of a female Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) provided by Kate Tweedy.
Odonates are found on every continent except Antarctica and many cultures around the world have immortalized them in art, stories, and jewelry. Almost anywhere you travel, you will find dragonflies and damselflies, and they’re worth paying attention to both for their beauty and for their actions and their behaviors. Here at Little St. Simons Island, one of my favorite places to watch them is at Goose Pond. There you can sit in the blind, watch the dashers and the pondhawks dancing through the air, perching on the ends of plants, and even fighting midair.
Photo of a male Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) provided by Kate Tweedy.