The pretty little dragonfly that swoops and flits around while you are walking the Presque Isle State Park lagoon shoreline has been the subject of intrigue on every continent where it’s found. Worldwide, each society has developed its unique meanings about the behavior and lifestyle of the dragonfly.
The insect’s agile ability to fly in all directions is enviable. They can move at an impressive 40 mph but can hover like a helicopter. They can also lift 15 times their weight. Now consider that they do this while flapping their wings a mere 30 times a second. Bees, mosquitoes, and houseflies flap their wings 600 to 1,000 times a second.
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Scientists tell us that winged insects appeared about 300 million years ago. Interestingly, the oldest fossil of flying insects was that of a dragonfly. However, there was a time when a few species developed into enormous sizes. Some even had a wingspan of more than 2½ feet. It was only after the air became crowded with other predators that this huge form disappeared.
On Presque Isle, bird and butterfly admiration has long been widespread. With the advent of easy-to-use field guides about dragonflies, the pursuit and study of this beautiful insect is beginning to take off. Many believe the stunning jewel-like colors and daredevil flying antics are reason enough to start watching these extraordinary creatures.
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Inspired by a winged visitor
The experience that sparked my interest in dragonflies was an early morning cup of coffee on the back of my boat. It was late May, and the air was still more than a bit crisp. I went inside the cabin, poured a steaming cup of coffee, and brought it onto the back deck. I was sitting on a deck chair when the most beautiful blue dragonfly decided to keep me company and landed on the rim of my cup. He walked all around the rim, but I could tell he didn’t like coffee. I later found that this was a blue dasher, which is common throughout the Erie area. I think that he was enjoying the warmth from my coffee. He kept me company for more than 15 minutes.
The eyes of the dragonfly are one of its most awe-inspiring features. Science again tells us that almost 80% of the insect’s brain power is dedicated to its sight and it can see in 360 degrees. The eye of a dragonfly has about 30,000 lenses, yet they do not see detail well.
I used to tell my grandchildren, “Dragonflies are your friends.” I reminded them dragonflies eat the bugs that bite people. I suggested they should observe them. If they are lucky, they might see them catch their prey in midair, snapping up small bugs with their mouth or grabbing bigger ones with their legs, then perching somewhere to devour them.
In truth, they are wonderful creatures that help us by eating the pests we would like to get rid of. Like birders, some dragonfly chasers have begun to keep life lists and treasure their new finds. Presque Isle is a perfect place to begin this journey. Dragonflies need calm or slowly moving water, and we certainly have a lot of that at our park. Keep your eyes looking for these beauties. On the Sidewalk Trail, for instance.
See you at the park!
Gene Ware is the author of 10 books. He serves on the board of the Presque Isle Light Station and is past chairman of the boards of the Tom Ridge Center Foundation and the Presque Isle Partnership. Email him at email@example.com.