With a name like DRAGONFLY, is it any wonder that these formidable insects instill fear in many of us? Known as “darning needles” in old wives tales, legend has it that dragonflies can sew your lips shut, as well as sting you. Though capable of biting when handled, dragonflies do not sting, nor do they actively seek out persons to attack. If one happens to land on you, don’t be concerned – it is only interested in you as a temporary perch.
Currently, about 150 species of odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) have been documented in Connecticut. The common green darner (Anax junius), as its name implies, is one of the most common of the dragonflies in North America. Ranging across the United States, it can be found in Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. If the weather cooperates, the green darner can be seen in our area from April until early December. This enormous darner measures about three inches in length. Its large, clear wings have a lovely golden-yellow leading edge and are often washed in amber. The male is easily recognized by his bright green thorax and turquoise blue abdomen, while the female’s abdomen is a duller reddish-brown. (Cooler temperatures will temporarily turn the male’s abdomen from blue to purple.) Closer inspection reveals a small bull’s-eye pattern of black, yellow and blue above the face in front of its large compound eyes.
The common green darner likes wetland habitats with plenty of aquatic vegetation, such as ponds and lakes. Males are easy to spot as they fly above the water along the shoreline. As male patrols his territory he will fight with other males while searching for a female to mate with. Females lay their eggs in the vegetation, just below the water’s surface. The hatching nymphs will live and feed underwater until they are ready to emerge as winged adults.
Active most of the day, from early light until darkness falls, the green darner seems to be in constant motion as it defends territories along the water or feeds in upland areas. But it also spends time hidden, perching low to the ground on grasses or plant stems. A walk through a meadow will sometimes flush several green darners from their low perches. As dusk approaches, swarms of several species of darners will gather to feed on flying insects over meadows and fields. A mighty predator, the common green darner will catch insects such as butterflies, moths, wasps, flies, beetles and even other dragonflies. Amazing assaults on hummingbirds have also been recorded.
Incredibly, the common green darner migrates south for the winter and is one of only a few dragonfly species that does so. Large groups of them can be observed flying north along the Atlantic Coast in the spring at the same time that migrating birds are returning to their breeding grounds. These returning green darners will be some of the first dragonflies seen in Connecticut in the early spring. In the fall, the next generation of darners (the offspring of the returning spring darners) will travel south to spend the winter. Look for them flying along our coastline as they head for warmer climates.