Believe it or not, dragonflies are an exceptional means in which to get rid of those bugs that keep bugging you.
However, experts believe that 15% of North America’s dragonflies are in danger of extinction.
So how do you help a bug that that helps you? Simple. You learn a little about them to determine what they eat and how to keep them safe.
Start with a little dragonfly trivia. The term dragon-fly was first put into use in 1626 in a published work by Francis Bacon.
Prior to that title, dragonflies had a vast array of names which included: adder bolt, snake doctor, and horse stinger.
That last label was quite misleading, as dragonflies do not bite or sting. And that’s true, unless of course they are feeding, at which point they use their strong mandibles to chew on their prey.
So just what do dragonflies eat?
The Baby Dragonfly’s Diet
Dragonflies are agile hunters and generally eat other insects. These wee creatures are exceptionally carnivorous. They are predatory machines. In fact, they can eat their own body weight within a thirty minute stretch. However, they do limit that intake.
Dragonflies start their search for prey the moment they hatch. Since they are born in water, their initial food supply consists of anything that swims in the water, or hangs out on the surface. That is, as long as they can swallow it. They are incredible swimmers with an additional hyper-thrusting ability that will give them the boost necessary to capture anything that attempts to get away.
While the jet propulsion mechanism is certainly impressive, they can also exit the water to get a snack on land. This makes the nymph, or baby dragonfly, more than an aquatic creature. These juvenile dragonflies eat:
- Mosquito larvae
- Other water-based insects
However, they have also been known to eat:
- Small fish
- Aquatic invertebrates
A More Mature Menu: What Do Dragonflies Eat?
Once they are ready to leave the water, they crawl onto land and molt. While there, they will not lose their taste for meat. In fact, they will just be better skilled at capturing larger prey with their newly realized bodies. Since their legs form a basket while flying, they utilize that feature to capture any insect that crosses their path.
Once trapped, the victim will feel the vice like mandibles that will ultimately turn it into an easily swallowed mass of goo. Dragonflies love to eat insects, and will hunt in groups if there is a wide selection available for their devouring pleasure.
While they will sometimes feast on:
- Other dragonflies
They do prefer:
- Other flying insects
Apiaries find the presence of dragonflies particularly disheartening. This is due to the dragonflies’ ability to quickly take out an entire hive before damages are even suspected. Thankfully, dragonflies are more focused on eating mosquitoes and other nasty annoyances.
Hunting Dragonfly Style
Understanding what dragonflies eat is beneficial. But, being able to grasp their hunting methods could prove useful as well. Because dragonflies consume 10-15% of their weight in other insects each day, it is hard to imagine the amount of work involved. Thankfully, dragonflies are uniquely designed to be serious killing machines.
Dragonflies employ 80% of their brains for the sake of visually processing the world around them. This gift accentuates their ability to detect movement at 60 feet away and to even see objects within a 30 foot range. Of course, the bigger the dragonfly, the greater its processing ability.
Keep in mind that visual capabilities are not the only gifts the dragonfly embodies when it comes to the ability to pursue a meal. They can actually fly at an equivalent of 25-30 mph. However, they generally average a 10 mph pace. This makes them exceptionally well prepared to capture other insects in their basket legs.
Maneuverability is an additional talent bestowed upon these hunters. They are capable of:
- Instant acceleration
- Flying backwards
- Hovering in place
- Making tight turns
Other insects won’t even know what hit them.
Creating a Dragonfly Haven
Recalling the potential extinction of 15% of the North American dragonfly population, it is easy to understand why some people would like to welcome these bug zappers into their yards. However, not many people know what dragonflies require for an area to become a safe haven for their existence. That is why we have composed some suggestions for creating your own dragonfly preserve.
The best way to attract dragonflies is to ensure that you have a body of water at their disposal. There are a number of reasons dragonflies need water:
- They lay their eggs in or near water.
- Young dragonflies live in water.
- The nymphs need the water to reach adulthood.
If you don’t already have a body of water on your property, you might be interested in creating a manmade pond. A pond that provides well for dragonflies will be devoid of chemicals, ducks, and fish. It won’t require a filter either. But, there are some additional necessities to consider:
- Access to 5-6 hours of sun each day
- Protection from wind
- Depths reaching two feet
- Submerged and floating plants for oxygen provision
- Plants along the outer edges for safe perching
- Flat rocks for basking in the sun
Dragonflies are quite territorial, so if you set up a refuge for them be prepared to see some fairly intense dragonfly battles and subsequent suppers as they will eat each other.
Putting it all Together
Dragonflies are an excellent source of outdoor insect control. They will happily snack on all the bothersome bugs that seek to invade your humble outdoor abode. And, if you set up a pond like the one described in this article, you can contribute to the longevity of a population that appears to be in danger of extinction.
Providing a dragonfly safe haven on your property will allow you to enjoy the dragonflies as long as they exist. The larger ones have a life span of up to 7 years. Since they are territorial, this could be the beginning of a beautiful partnership.