In the summer months dragonflies hover about the watering holes of Arizona. They flit from rock to reed, all aglitter like jewel-encrusted brooches granted the gift of flight. Dragonflies are phenomenal fliers, among the fastest insects, and chase down their prey and grasp them with their long legs. The dragonfly is unique in that its front and hind wings beat in opposite directions. This allows him to move about with the agility of a tiny helicopter.
As children at Priest Lake in Idaho, we shared the shoreline with sparkling blue dragonflies. When we rested, sun-drowsy on floats in the water, dragonflies would light briefly on our wet skin. We didn’t scream and thrash, like we did when bees or spiders landed on us. We paused even our breathing and stared into the globelike eyes. The magical looking creatures seemed a manifestation of the sun, the water and the joys of summer.
The desert is home to some of the most spectacular dragonflies, from the six inch giant darner to the citrine forktail with a wing span of less than one inch. A dragonfly’s head is almost all eyes, and the insect can turn its head nearly 360 degrees as it scans its territory for prey or foes.
Dragonflies mate in mid-air, their arching thoraxes forming the shape of a heart as they link up. The female lays her eggs in the water – some attach to plants, others float beneath the surface.
The eggs hatch into non-descript nymphs. Flat and cryptic the creatures stay near the bottom of the lake or stream. Up to four years can pass while the nymphs live underwater, breathing through gills. They scoop up meals of fish, tadpoles and small invertebrates from the sandy bottom and from among the water plants.
Finally, in a dramatic transformation, the dragonfly pulls itself from the water and unfolds wings and crystalline colors. The air becomes its new medium. The adult life stage will last just two months and the dragonfly lives it up. Sun glints off his darting form as he engages in aerial battles for territories and chases down prey. He mates and provides for a new generation of his species. He epitomizes the glory of living for the moment.
Source: Carl Olson’s 50 Common Insects of the Southwest