When the warm and sunny days finally arrive, you may be hanging around water and see some pretty insects flying around you. These are dragonflies and darners, which are pretty common. As a side note, James W. Riley mentioned dragonflies twice in his poems “The Old Swimmin’-Hole” and “The South Wind and the Sun.” Go on and look it up, I’ll wait.
These dragonflies and darners belong to the Order called Odonata. There are some 5,500 species in North America, with about 450 found in the U.S. The ones normally found around our area are put into seven species: Petaltails, Darners, Clubtails, Spiketails, Cruisers, Emeralds and Skimmers.
Some people may be thinking “What good are they?” Dragonflies happen to be a good indication of how the environment is in the waterways. The more you see, the better the environment is. They also consume mosquitoes as part of their diet, in fact, a hungry dragonfly can eat its weight of mosquitoes in just an hour. In turn, they contribute to the food chain by being eaten as larvae by fish, the adults get eaten by amphibians, birds, fish, and spiders.
Let’s start off with the Common Green Darner. This is one of the easiest and most common to spot, as it has a green and blue body getting to a bit over three inches long. They have the longest flight season, from late March to early October. Look for the “bulls-eye” on the forehead. This one is found around almost any slow or still water that has vegetation.
The Pronghorn Clubtail has a bright yellow streak running down its abdominal section and will be about 2 inches long. It’s common here from mid-May to late July around ponds, lakes and large streams.
The Common Sanddragon is not seen that much but is still around. While it also has yellow spots, it can be identified by the dark spots at the base of its wings, it gets a bit over 2 inches. These are found near sand-bottomed streams from early June to late August.
Another of the early one is the Common Baskettail, which starts late April through to the end of July. Getting to not quite 2 inches, its color is brown with some yellow markings. They mate while flying over the water.
The Eastern Pondhawk is less than 2 inches long. The male has a pale blue body with a bright yellow end. The females (and juvenile males) are apple green with dark markings. You’ll see them from mid-May to mid–October around lakes, ponds and small streams. These guys will attack and eat a variety of large flying insects, including other dragonflies and their own kind.
Another common species is the Widow Skimmer. They get about 2 inches and wing markings are distinctive enough that you won’t mistake it for any other dragonfly. The wings are large, males have a large white patch they also have two light blue streaks on the upper service of their body. Females have black wing tips. They are around here from late May to mid-October. It is one of the most common dragonflies in Indiana.
Another common dragonfly is called the Common Whitetail. Males have the broadest black wing stripes of any dragonfly in the state. Their abdomen is light blue with a white coating. Females are brown with wings that are spotted black. They get just less than 2 inches and are around from early May to late September. They can be found almost around any body of water, no matter how small or muddy.
The Blue Dasher is common around here it gets about 1¾ inches and hangs around from late April to late September. Males have a blue abdomen with a black tip, green eyes and a white face. Females have a double row of yellow streaks down the top and sides of the abdomen. Look for them near farm ponds, marshes, swamps along lakes and small streams.