Damsels and Dragons

OMG, I Love Her…or Him! This is my Mantra! If you’re around me enough, you’ll hear me say that a lot. I really do feel that way about people, animals, even insects. I have a genuine love for the flora and the fauna that inhabit our lovely State and getting to participate in the 2018 Forest Preserve of Cook County Odonate Monitoring Program sent me over the moon! I get to be a citizen scientist and monitor Damsel and Dragon flies.
My love affair started while hiking with my daughter a couple years back. She casually mentioned the damsel flies whizzing past us. I never really noticed them before and loved their name and became hooked. The next year I started spotting them while hiking and noticed how they would gravitate to very specific spots along familiar ponds and streams. They flitted and flew all around each other like little fighter planes with expert pilots who didn’t mind how close you got. They would just keep doing their thing. Damsel flies are beautiful, with deep black wings, some highlighted with jade at the top edges, some just black as night with metallic bursts of color when the sunlight hits at just the right angle. I was so happy to have made such a beautiful discovery and became more and more curious about these tiny creatures. I started taking pictures. I would stand perfectly still and shoot photo after photo. The following photo captures a lovely ebony jewelwing.

I should take a moment now to point out that my original goal was to capture pretty bugs mating. It was a Facebook album, and it seemed like a great idea at the time but underappreciated by my friends and followers. So, with that said, don’t feel like a creeper. My little pals are definitely mating, and the one guy seems to be looking directly at the camera. This went on for a short amount of time and the little jewelwing flew from the bush, her mate in tow, and proceeded to lay lots of eggs for a very long time, then flew away just like that. I lost track of her amongst the dozens of other Damsels that looked just like her and wondered what happened to the eggs. They were injected into a leaf in a rapidly moving stream. I wondered how many would live to become actual flies, or how many would end up as food or bait for fly fishermen, since there was high foot traffic in that area of the stream.
Several months later, I saw one of the craziest photos depicting a damsel nymph. Let me tell you, it’s the stuff of nightmares. The little fellows that made it to that point were all about survival of the fittest. They are predators known to eat other insects. They sit and wait for soft body insects like mosquitoes, aphids and gnats. They are also known to lay in wait for tadpoles and small fish. This is what they are programmed to do, and they are beneficial to our environment. They are indicators of healthy biophysical environmental conditions and are indicators of other aquatic species and the biodiversity of the local streams and ponds. Damsels and Dragons require clean water to survive and this is the point of the survey.
I wrote this story for two reasons. I wanted to share what I’ve learned and educate people about the role of our local odonates and how they reflect the health of our immediate environment, but also what happens when you start realizing that there is so much more going on around you than you can ever imagine. Maybe you are more of a butterfly or a bird person. Why not carve out some time and learn more about the animals that interest you? Take a role in becoming a conservationist. No better time than right now, and who knows you may influence those around you to become motivated to learn about the gifts that nature gives us.
For more information on what you can do to foster our environment, contact the Cook County Forest Preserve and see what they have to offer.



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