Of dragonflies and cousins, the damsels

To the Navajo they symbolize pure water. The Zuni paint them on pottery; Hopi rock art symbolizes them as a double-barred cross, and they grace Pueblo necklaces.

The dragonfly is a symbol of renewal after a time of great hardship.

Europeans have referred to dragonflies as "horsestingers" devil's darning needles." However, they don't sting or bite. They are predators who love gnats, mosquitoes and flies. Dragonflies are insects in the order 'Odonata'. Their smaller cousins are the damselflies. Both have changed little since the time of the dinosaurs.

You can tell a dragonfly by the way it holds its wings at rest - horizontally or slightly down and forward, whereas the damselfly holds its wings together above the torso or slightly open. The eyes on a damselfly are set apart; in most dragonflies the eyes touch. They both possess 6 legs like other insects, but they can't walk.

Worldwide, odonates number around 6,500 species. About 435 species live in North America. Texas claims approximately 213, more than any other state. Odonates live near permanent bodies of freshwater. They live in the water as naiads, as adults they hunt prey that lives near the water. They also lay their eggs in the water.

Dragonflies mate in the air. Their impact against each other is loud enough to hear. Their mating flight is called a "wheel," as the male and female curl around each other to transfer the sperm. Damselflies mate on nearby plants. They don't make any noise when connecting. The female may store the sperm for awhile without fertilizing eggs. This can allow rival males to remove the sperm and deposit his own. Eggs can be yellow, brown, orange or green.

The larvae are called naiads. Odonates, the "toothed ones," are named after the naiad, who has a mouthful of teeth and isn't afraid to use them. They really do bite. Naiads feed on mosquito larvae, other naiads, and even fish fry. Highly amusing is that dragonfly naiads can expel water from their rectum, giving them their own jet propulsion.

The adults are visually oriented hunters. Their great flying ability (faster than 20 miles per hour) and acute eyesight make them good hunters. Most fly during the day, catching their food on the wing. The males gather in swarms when food is abundant. Most females remain away from the water, only appearing to mate and lay eggs.

Most common

Here are three of the most common damselflies and dragonfl ies in Texas:

Pond Damsels are small to medium size with clear wings. Their bodies range from blue, green, red, orange, yellow or purple. They are common in bogs, lakes, ponds and streams.

Clubtail dragonflies are small to large with clear wings that have an amber color or brown spots at the base. Their eyes are green or blue. They have a club on the end of their abdomens. They live in rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds.

Skimmer dragonflies are the most common. They range in size, are very colorful, and have clear wings or wing patterns. You will find them mostly in ponds.

The presence, or lack, of dragonflies and damselflies can be indicative to the health of their watery habitat. About 15 percent of North American dragonflies are at risk of extinction, including some Gulf Coast species. Stream and bog species have declined considerably in recent years, mainly due to human development of one sort or another. The popularity of garden ponds, though, has seen a rise in the number of pond species.

The Estero Llano Grande State Park World Birding Center and the Valley Nature Center in Weslaco host Dragonfly Days in the Valley every year.

Their website: http://www. htm.

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2009-07-09 digital edition

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