Like honey bees and butterflies, dragonflies are a phenomenon. The species comes with a huge number of defenders and aficionados. Maybe it’s because the dragonfly, and its more diminutive relative the damselfly, are considered harbingers of our future health. That is to mean the future health of the planet. As go the honey bee, so goes man.
I remain mostly unschooled in the significance of these canaries in our mine (they are what scientists call “indicator species”) but I am convinced that the love of dragonflies and the appreciation of things dragonfly is authentic and benevolent. These are fragile insects and they need a benefactor so why not homo sapien?
I met my first dragonfly enthusiast this summer when guests Gertjan and Freda stayed a few days. Bluntly, Freda is a nut for the dragonfly. Freda was introduced to the dragonfly some years ago and was immediately bitten by the bug, metaphorically speaking. Her days here were spent traipsing through the forest and alongside creeks looking for both known and unknown species.
She found some beauties. And so did I after I started looking for them. On a hike along Myrtle Creek after Freda had left, Meg and I spotted a huge California Darner (Rhionaeschna californica). It was hanging out on a rock, probably waiting for something delicious to fly by. Her feathers weren’t ruffled in the slightest by our attentions. One amazing factoid about dragonflies concerns their vision, which is almost 180 degrees, so she surely saw us and Molly. But she stood her ground.
The redwoods, with so many rivers and creeks, and so much wetland in general, are a haven for dragonfly. They thrive and need water, which is one reason why they portend of the health of the planet.
You can find dragonflies almost anywhere in the world but hotter and wetter ecosystems support greater numbers of species. In California, there are about 108 species present (worldwide there are over 5,000).
The Guardian’s nature blog has some tips when it comes to spotting and photographing dragonflies and damselflies. “Dragonflies are most active when it is warm and sunny so it may be better to avoid the hottest part of the day. If possible go in the morning and if you want one of those dew on the wings shots, go first thing. Approach the dragonfly slowly in a straight line hesitating every few steps with the camera already on the settings you need so that you can concentrate on the subject in case it moves. If the insect looks like it is about to fly take a step back and wait a few moments and remember to avoid any sudden movements. Be patient, very often damselflies will come to you if you stand still.”
Additionally, the Smithsonian’s web site has a list of 14 interesting dragonfly factoids.
Don’t forget to appreciate the history and myth of the dragonfly. It makes seeing them that much more special. Says the web: “Dragonflies are represented in human culture on artifacts such as pottery, rock paintings, and Art Nouveau jewelry. They are used in traditional medicine in Japan and China, and caught for food in Indonesia. They are symbols of courage, strength, and happiness in Japan, but seen as sinister in European folklore. Their bright colors and agile flight are admired in the poetry of Alfred, Lord Tennyson and the prose of H. E. Bates.”
After the schooling, just get on out on the trail. Myrtle Creek Trail would be a good trail to walk, as would Mill Creek Trail and even Stony Creek Trail (take the feint trail up the south bank of Stony Creek). And see Earth Times’ discussion of dragonflies as an indicator species.
And for information on California dragon and damselflies, there’s no better site than Kathy Biggs’ site here.