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From My Window

Issue Date: August 8, 2019

Janie Thibodeau Martin

Odonate Fanatics

I find "fanatics" of all stripes fascinating. I am referring to people who are passionate about something that is a little unusual OR someone who is obsessed with something common. Some examples are Great Lakes ships fanciers, lighthouse lovers, cemetery explorers, or a group that, believe it or not, is called "Concrete Arrows and Beacons" who are interested in a primitive aircraft navigation system that was used in the U.S. Because most of these groups have communities "on line" I follow quite a few of them, and always learn some interesting things, or even enjoy a laugh or two. I'm not laughing AT the group members, I am laughing WITH them, because I have some rather peculiar fascinations/obsessions myself. And I have become acquainted with a couple of wonderful fanatics through the column readers, including a doll collector who has more than a thousand dolls, and a man who just loves outhouses.

One "fanatics" group I have been enjoying recently is a Facebook site called "Wisconsin Dragonfly Society." The group has well over a thousand members, and what first attracted me to them was the astonishing and gorgeous photographs of dragonflies taken here in Wisconsin by group members.

These big insects have excellent vision, and sneaking up on them to take photos is very difficult. But I've always had a soft spot for them, partly because they are an alpha predator of mosquitoes. You have to love something that kills mosquitoes without any chemicals. And they are fascinating to watch, because not much else flies with the skills they exhibit " high speed flight, hovering, and skimming just above the surface of the water they tend to reside near. The only other natural flier example I can come up with is hummingbirds.

The group members call themselves "Odonates," or "Odes" after the classification of this family of insects. I was surprised to learn just how many different species are present here in our state, gifted with so much water and wetlands " at least 112, some common, some rare. Blue Dashers, Halloween Pennants, and Meadowhawks among them".how could you not love a name as evocative of the creature as Meadowhawk? I find the species names are beautiful and whimsical " another charming thing about them. These insects are the 747 jets of the bug world, destroying the mosquitoes which are like Piper Cub airplanes in comparison.

Group members ask for help with species identification, or how to improve the pond on their property to attract more Odes. They also post locations for spotting their favorite insects. Conversations about species identification can get quite involved, with one recent post "here is a photo of a sub-genital plate from an individual in a swarm in my yard".I realize the photo might not be good enough to determine species, but any comments are welcome""

If that's not a fanatic, who is?

I have found dead dragonflies (and the related damselflies) and admired their amazing body architecture myself " their stiff, glossy wings, and the brilliant greens and blues of some of their bodies. A quick walk to "Hank Lake" on our land revealed at least three different species active one recent day, none of which let me get close.

Dragonflies live in water during their larval stage, and they will eat almost anything they find in the water smaller than they are. Large larvae even eat tiny fish. The adults graduate to airborne hunting and consume mostly mosquitoes and midges, but they will also eat butterflies, moths and smaller dragonflies. The lifespan of the adult is about six months. Since each one can eat 30-100 mosquitoes per day, dragonflies, which pose no threat to people (they do not sting and would only try to bite if you are handling them,) are our friends. There is no reason to fear or kill them. All the adults die in the winter, but the larva are active under iced-over water all winter long, ready to morph to adults as soon as spring arrives.

These fascinating insects buzz around at a top speed of 35 miles per hour and are considered the world's fastest insects. That's a good thing, because reptiles, fish, amphibians, and some other insects consider them dinner " bees routinely go after mature dragonflies. But their predator's ambushes must be well thought out, since dragonflies are so fast.

So it is not surprising to me that "Odes" love to converse and swap pictures of their fast-flying obsessions. And while I haven't attempted species identification or taking pictures (yet) I love watching our local residents zoom around Hank Lake. Count me in for a daily check in to the "Odes" site, and as time goes on I find less and less to laugh at and more and more to interest me. I may just start a species present list for them in the book I keep on Hank Lake mammals, fish, birds and amphibians in a few months.

One of my favorite things about dragonflies is they freeze me in my tracks to marvel at their amazing design. No matter what I had on my mind, I lock in and feel wonder and joy. And that is the miracle of our beautiful environment. Mother Nature is one of the most addictive, and healthy, obsessions we humans can have.



You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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