Summer seems to have hit early this year, as it’s already ninety-some degrees, the coneflowers are starting to flower, and I have acquired the Hippie Gardeners tan, which consists of white Birkenstock bands and sunburned toes.
I was doing the last of the spring planting in the garden not long ago, and I spotted the most goth insect I’ve ever seen.
One of my Twitter friends was able to ID it for me by description alone—Calopteryx maculata, the Ebony Jewelwing damselfly. The photo above isn’t lying—the wings are opaque and jet black, the body a hard metallic turquoise. It was a truly marvelous creature, and I’m glad whoever named it picked such an elegant title.
Dragonflies are pretty common in my garden, and I’m glad to see them—makes me think I’m doing something right. Being predators on other insects, they simply don’t show up unless there’s something to eat, and many of them are also quite sensitive to issues of water quality and the presence of pesticides. Much like frogs, they’re an environmental indicator—if you’ve got dragonflies, things can’t be TOO bad. (I hold out hope that they will breed in the new pond, although so far, they don’t seem particularly interested, despite all the inviting horsetails for perching.)
The jewelwing is the first I’ve seen of its kind. (I’m lumping dragonflies and damselflies in together here.) We get a lot of common whitetails and eastern pondhawks (another fabulous name) and a great deal more that I’ve never been able to ID successfully because they zip by too quickly. They cruise the garden like tiny fighter jets, looking for insects. I can only get photos when they perch.
This one let me get REALLY close with my iPhone.
Attracting dragonflies to your garden is really quite easy, if you follow the basic tenets of wildlife gardening—no insecticides and lots of plants that make bugs happy. Dragonflies will travel quite a long way in search of prey, so once you’ve got an insect population established, they’ll likely show up (with the possible exception of some parts of the Southwest, where a garden may be so far from an open body of water that the dragonflies simply can’t make it that far.)
If you want to not just attract but host dragonflies, however, you’ll need a water feature to do it. It honestly doesn’t have to be a big one—I once watched a pondhawk lay eggs in the sunken azalea pot pond that I set up one morning (and which still houses two medium-sized frogs, who seem quite happy with it, despite the far superior pond out back.) Dragonflies will breed in wading pools and whiskey half-barrels, as long as their needs are met. They need a way to climb in and out of the water, like a stiff plant stalk (I’ve used bamboo stakes myself) and they like vegetation in the water for the nymphs to hide in, preferably free of predators like fish.
Their offspring are voracious little monsters and will devour mosquito larvae and anything else they can get. (I’m anticipating a positively Darwinian scene if they ever do start breeding in the pond—there are already tadpoles and predacious diving beetle larvae in there, and I have no idea who will ultimately come out on top…)
Dragonfly watching is delightful for its own sake—they’re gorgeous creatures, of course, and their names are just a ridiculous delight. You can hope to spot things like the “Common Sanddragon” and the “Shadow Darner,” the “Mocha Emerald” and the “Halloween Pennant,” and really, who can ask for better than that?
© 2011 – 2012, Ursula Vernon. All rights reserved. This article is the property of BeautifulWildlifeGarden.com If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us