Saturday, January 5, 2013

DRAGONFLIES

You may be thinking that just because it's a whole new year, we are not in the Year of the Dragon anymore.  But if you are thinking that, you are WRONG!   The reason for this is because the Chinese calendar is sort of different from the calendar that we use, and the Chinese New Year is not until February 10 this year.  After which, it will be the Year of the Snake.



But right now it's still the Year of the Dragon, so I can write about more dragons in my blog.  The problem being that there aren't a whole lot of kinds of dragons left for me to write about.  Then I thought about dragonflies, which aren't real dragons, but they do have the word "dragon" in their name.  I don't usually write about insects, except for CICADAS, which as you know, I totally love to eat.  I would probably like to eat a dragonfly, too, but there aren't any living in our neighborhood because we don't have any lakes or ponds or marshes or other wet places, which is where dragonflies like to live.




Dragonfly Nymph
by C.H. Kennedy


The reason why dragonflies live where there is water is because they lay their eggs in the water, like for instance on a reed or some other plant that grows up out of the water.  Then when the eggs hatch out, the baby dragonflies are called nymphs.  They spend most of their lives being nymphs, and they eat stuff like mosquito larvae, tadpoles, and small fish.  They have gills in their rectums, and they get around by shooting water out through the anus.  This sounds kind of gross, but I'm just telling you what I read.






Dragonfly emerging from nymph stage
Large dragonflies can stay in the nymph stage for as long as five years.  Smaller ones might only be nymphs for between two months and three years.  When it is time for a nymph to become an adult dragonfly, it crawls up out of the water on a reed or other plant.  Being in the air makes it start breathing.  Then its skin splits open, its wings open up, and pretty soon it flies away.  There is no need to even take flying lessons.  The dragonfly just knows what to do.

The things that adult dragonflies eat include mosquitoes, flies, bees, ants, wasps, and sometimes butterflies.  The things that like to eat dragonflies are birds, lizards, frogs, spiders, fish, water bugs, and larger dragonflies.



Because of the way their wings are arranged, dragonflies can fly in six different directions:  forward, backward, up, down, left, and right.  Also, they can just hover in one spot.  Dragonflies are among the fastest flying insects in the world, but they cannot walk very well, in spite of having six legs.  Mostly, they use their legs for grabbing their prey.

When dragonflies are at rest, they hold their wings straight out to the sides.  You can tell the difference between them and their cousins, the damselflies, because damselflies hold their wings up when they are sitting still, instead of out to the sides.







Emperor Dragonfly
Photo:  Jef Meul/Foto Natura/Getty Images
There are 3,600 species of dragonflies in the world, in all different colors.  They range in size from one to five inches.  The largest dragonfly ever in existence was a type that lived over 250 million years ago.  This was even before there were dinosaurs.  This giant dragonfly had a wingspan of almost three feet.  I'm really glad I wasn't around back then because I'm afraid such a big dragonfly would have eaten a little dog like me!









Yellow-winged Darter
by André Karwath
Another name for dragonfly is "darning needle."  I guess this is because they have such long, thin bodies.  Sadly, I couldn't find any information during all my 15 or 20 minutes of in-depth research that explained why dragonflies are called dragonflies.  Maybe it is because they have wings, like the Celtic dragons.  Or because some people think they are lucky, like Chinese dragons.  But neither one of these theories seems very good to me, even though I dreamed them up myself.  So if you want a better theory, you will just have to make up your own!

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