Dragonflies -- They call them Mosquito Hawks!

May 15, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

Dragonflies are a prize of nature that will, and should, change the way you think about insects. Have a mosquito problem? Dragonflies can help with that. A single dragonfly can eat 30 to hundreds of mosquitoes a day. It wasn’t until I got a camera lens big enough that I paid much attention to dragonflies, other than being charmed by their flitting nature. I spend a lot of time visiting wildlife refuges where there's usually wetlands, marshy areas, or ponds in the refuge. Depending upon the time of year, this is often where you will hit dragonfly jackpot!


The dragonfly images in my current portfolio are attached at the bottom of this post. These include a Halloween Pennant; Roseate Skimmer; Four-spotted Pennant; Tawny Pennant; Great Blue Skimmer; Blue-eyed Darner; Green-eyed Darner; and a Widow Skimmer. There are thousands of dragonfly species and a single species can vary in appearance based on age and gender. I did a lot of research to make the right ID on the dragonflies I captured, but it's not easy. OdonataCentral was a terrific resource for me.


Do I have a favorite dragonfly?  I absolutely love them all, but -- yes -- the Halloween Pennant dragonfly which I recently shot while visiting Savannah National Wildlife Refuge in Savannah Georgia is really something. All but one of my dragonfly images (the widow skimmer) were taken with my telephoto lens - 560mm. Many people shoot dragonflies and other insects with a macro lens. This can produce other-worldly, phenomenal detail and very impressive images. I use my telephoto lens when I’m out in the field for long periods and need the flexibility for close-up telephoto (the same as macro in many respects) as well as longer distance zoomed-in shots.  


So, let’s talk about the amazing dragonfly! The experts call them “Odonata”.  Please see my sources and links to more reading at the end of this post. 


Why should you care about dragonflies?

Dragonflies are beneficial and can be an asset to a garden or yard by keeping insects, including mosquitoes, to a minimum. A single dragonfly can eat 30 to hundreds of mosquitoes per day.

Dragonflies are also food for many birds, providing them with natural nutrients and fuel they need to survive.

Last but not least, dragonflies are incredibly beautiful and will make you smile. 


What risks do dragonflies face?

Dragonflies start their life in water. They’re often found in wetlands, ponds, and marshy areas. Like most living creatures, they need clean and suitable habitat to live. However, suitable habitats are disappearing faster than new ones are formed and, until that trend is reversed, there's risk. Rivers become polluted; ponds are allowed to become clogged up with debris; marshland is drained to satisfy the ever-increasing human demand for roads and houses; forests are disappearing due to human “needs” and natural disasters including fire and, with them, the mountain streams which contain dragonflies and many other species are also disappearing.


What can I do to attract dragonflies?

Add a small pond to your garden or yard; add larger ones in school playing areas (what a great educational opportunity for kids!); and even larger ones in various types of open space.

Farmers and other landowners can preserve their hedgerows and thickets where adult dragonflies shelter in poor weather. Farmers should keep ponds and other water on their land clear of run-off. Lakes and ponds should not be allowed to get overgrown with reeds or other aquatic plants, nor should overhanging branches of trees be permitted to totally block out the sun.

Join or set up a local group of conservation volunteers that promote and build dragonfly habitat.


What do dragonflies eat?

Adult dragonflies mostly eat other flying insects, particularly gnats, flies, and mosquitoes. They also eat butterflies, moths and smaller dragonflies. The larvae, which live in water, eat almost any living thing smaller than themselves. Larger dragonfly larvae sometimes eat small fish or fry. Usually they eat blood-worms or other aquatic insect larvae.


How long do they live?

Not long at all! Most species live as adults less than a month, though some can live as long as six months.


What animals rely on dragonflies as a food source?

Birds, spiders, frogs, larger dragonflies. In the larval stage, they are preyed on by fish, frogs, toads and newts, and other water invertebrates.


How fast can a dragonfly fly?

It is estimated that the top speed for a dragonfly is between 30 and 60 km/h (19 to 38 m.p.h.). The maximum speed varies a lot between different species, with bigger dragonflies generally flying faster than smaller ones.


How strong are their eyes?

A dragonfly can see nearly all the way around itself –it can’t see behind itself. Its eyes have about 30,000 lenses. However, the human eye with only one lens can see more sharply, though we only have front and side (peripheral) vision.


How long have dragonflies been around?

About 300 million years. It’s believed that huge dragonflies were flying when dinosaurs roamed the earth.


Where do dragonflies live?

Dragonflies start their life in water; therefore, they are often found near water: wetlands, ponds, lakes, canals, streams, rivers, marshes and swamps. Some dragonflies with a short larvae cycle (a few weeks) also can live in rain puddles. Since dragonflies are very good flyers they can sometimes be found a very long way from water.


Do dragonflies bite or sting?

No. Sometimes large dragonflies will try to bite, but they fail to break the skin.


Do dragonflies migrate?

Some migrate. The green darner in New Jersey migrates short distances - averaging about 7-1/2 miles per day, and generally moving every third day. The globe-skinner migrates the farthest of any insect, about 11,000 miles across the Indian Ocean.










Halloween Pennant Dragonfly - MaleHalloween Pennant Dragonfly - Male

Roseate Skimmer DragonflyRoseate Skimmer Dragonfly


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