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OSU Extension

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

November 24, 2014 - 3:41pm --

Late summer is the ideal time to observe dragonflies and damselflies in our area.  More than 64 species of these insects in the order Odonata have been identified in Butler and Warren counties and more than 164 in the state of Ohio.  They love Ohio because of our many rivers, lakes, ponds and wetlands and these are the ideal areas to observe them.  If you see a winged insect with huge eyes in proportion to their head and a very long abdomen, it is almost certainly a member of the order Odonata. 

Dragonflies are one of our larger insects; some species can be over 3” long.  They are excellent flyers, able to fly forward, backward, up, down and side to side.  Some can fly as fast as 30 miles per hour.  They use this ability primarily to find a mate, defend their territory and catch insects to eat.  Dragonflies eat almost any insect smaller than themselves, including gnats, mosquitoes, wasps and other dragonflies.  Large ones even eat butterflies.  They catch insects on the fly by scooping them up in their six legs which have bristles and are held in a basket shape. Then they usually eat them as they are flying, the ultimate eat while you’re driving meal! 

In order to catch insects in flight, dragonflies have huge eyes which give them their distinctive big-headed appearance.  Each eye has up to 30,000 smaller faucets or lenses which allow the dragonflies to see in all directions.  They have color vision, and indeed see infrared colors we cannot see. 

Dragonflies and damselflies are very closely related.  Dragonflies are usually larger and hold their two pairs of wings straight out, like an airplane when they are at rest.  Damselflies are smaller and fold their wings over their back.  Both have similar life cycles.  The females lay their eggs either directly in the water, or in moist areas near water.  The bizarre-looking larvae, known as nymphs, are aquatic and are voracious predators eating other insects, tadpoles and even small fish.  Depending on the species and the habitat, nymphs may take a few months to up to four years to mature.  Then suddenly, usually at night, they crawl out of the water and a full grown adult emerges.  They do not have the pupa stage common in many insects.  After their long immature state, the adults are relatively short lived using their time to mate and lay eggs for the coming generation.

Dragonflies are very old creatures, fossils 325 million years old that look very much like our current dragonflies have been found; they were here many, many years before dinosaurs roamed the earth. 

During late August and September, some of our Ohio dragonflies migrate southward.  Although it has been known for hundreds of years that dragonflies migrate, we still do not know exactly where they go for the winter and what dangers they encounter.  A common migrating species is the Green Darner, an impressive large dragonfly with a distinctive green body.  Swarms of these insects are sometime sighted moving south in the fall and coming north again in the spring.  They seem to follow geographical features such as cliffs and ridges and appear to take advantage of weather fronts to help them fly over long distances.

There are many old wives tales about dragonflies.  Despite their fearsome appearance, they do not bite or sting and they do not sew people’s eyes or lips shut at night.  They are wonderful mosquito killers, so if you have a small pond or live near a stream, consider yourself lucky if you have these interesting creatures hunting near your yard.   More information and pictures of many of the species commonly found in Ohio is available: more information on home, lawn, indoor, or outdoor garden care and tips, as well as other garden topics, visit and click on the Yard and Garden link, or call the OSU Extension, Butler County, at (513) 887-3722, or in Middletown at (513) 424-5351, ext. #3722.

News Release provided by Kathy Maurer.