Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Most of us know a dragonfly when we see one, but not many of us know one kind of dragonfly from another—and there are over two hundred varieties of dragonflies and damselflies just in Texas. I started to get interested in watching dragonflies after watching an entire group of dragonflies, known as a dazzle, swooping back and forth in my back yard one evening. I knew some of the nicknames—mosquito hawk, devil’s darning needle—that dragonflies have been called, but I never knew the name of any one individual species.

I often see dragonflies while canoeing in the backwaters of White Rock Lake, blue ones, green ones, red ones, all different sizes, but until this weekend I had never successfully managed to identify one of them. Last Christmas my wife got me a book on identifying dragonflies. It’s sort of like the ubiquitous books that birders carry, except, of course, for dragonflies. I’ve spent a little time with it, trying to work out the characteristics that you need to look for to identify a particular dragonfly, and finally succeeded with one:
This is a widow skimmer, one of the most common and most easily identified dragonflies. Identifying the widow skimmer is about the equivalent of being able to identify a cardinal without knowing any other birds.

The widow skimmer is a powerful flier and it’s large for a dragonfly. I watched them skimming over the water, never stopping and as the sun got low in the sky the white bands on their wings glowed as if they were fluorescent.

So it’s one down, another 250 or so to go before completing my life list. I’m not sure how many more I’ll be able to identify, but even knowing one dragonfly means I know something today that I didn’t last week.

A good site to learn more about dragonflies and damselflies is Odonata Central: (Odonata is the Latin scientific name for dragonflies and damselflies).

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