DAMSELFLIES ARE FASCINATING CREATURES
went oding for the first time last week. If you have never gone looking
for odes (other than in a poetry book), you should give it a try. If
you learn something about them first or go with a knowledgeable guide,
you will not be disappointed. It may be one of the most thrilling nature
walks you take.
is the colloquial name given for species in the taxonomic order Odonata,
the dragonflies and damselflies. All are carnivorous, specializing on
insect prey, so they are beneficial to have around. Peter Stangel asked
if he and two other odonate experts, John Demko and Hilda Flamholtz,
could visit our land to go oding. All three are remarkable ode trackers,
plus John and Hilda add photographic skills that are humbling.
at my cabin in the woods alongside a stream and sphagnum swamp that
border a sandhill habitat with young longleaf pine. The thrill of the
hunt soon surfaced and remained with me all day. As with most groups
of animals with high species diversity, once you focus on their ecological
and behavioral traits, different biopersonalities emerge.
are familiar as the four-winged, fast-moving aerial predators that patrol
fields and ponds in search of flying insects. When I was a kid, we called
them mosquito hawks. Damselflies, aka snake doctors, are more common
in swamps and shaded stream margins. We saw numerous ebony jewelwings,
with their solid black wings, flitting around in shaded spots like fairies.
dainty damselflies perch in sunlight, the abdomen (the long body extension
that looks like a tail) appears metallic green or blue. These are beautiful
creatures whose gentle nature should make anyone appreciate the edge
of a swamp. With a little coaching, even I learned to tell the ebony
jewelwing males from the females, which have a white spot on the wing
cover the color spectrum with bodies ranging from bright red and orange
to yellow, green, blue and even violet. The common whitetail dragonfly,
which also has a white abdomen, was abundant. Eye color often reveals
the species of an odonate. We saw dragonflies called eastern pondhawks
with huge bright green eyes, whereas a damselfly known as the variable
dancer has purple eyes. A damselfly called the attenuated bluet has
solid blue eyes and a recognizable light blue tip on its long, thin
we were able to locate, identify and even photograph more than 30 different
species of dragonflies and damselflies. Some were rare, such as the
duckweed firetail, a reddish damselfly that rests on mats of tiny duckweed
plants that cover some aquatic habitats.
the sphagnum sprite, was restricted to an area of sphagnum moss growing
deep in the swamp. Some were new records for the county. Some were ones
that Peter, John and Hilda had never seen. As an untrained initiate
in the ode club, all but a few were new to me, although I have walked
through those fields, woods and swamps many times.
I was astonished
to realize that so many kinds of dragonflies and damselflies have been
around me unnoticed in these habitats for years. This is true for much
of the vibrant array of biodiversity that surrounds us anytime we venture
into a natural habitat. Two excellent sources for teaching oneself about
these remarkable predators are the book Dragonflies and Damselflies
of Georgia and the Southeast (University of Georgia Press) by
Giff Beaton and a free app called Dragonfly and Damselfly Field
Guide and ID.
the day of oding was both educational and exciting, a fabulous exercise
in environmental search and discovery. The same can be true of any nature
walk, whether the quest is for odonates, birds or flowers; mushrooms,
snakes or lichens. Whatever you search for, once you tune in to the
diversity of life around us, you become more aware of and therefore
more appreciative of the natural world.
you have an environmental question or comment, email