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What Time is it in Nature: Wandering Glider

September 26, 2013

While most of the dragonfly activity has slowed down in anticipation of cooler weather, we are still seeing one of the most fascinating dragonflies, the Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens), at Prairie Ridge.  These amazing dragonflies will likely be out and about for a few more weeks before they too disappear for the winter.

Wandering glider

Wandering Gliders are medium dragonflies about 2 inches in length with long, narrow forewings and long, broad hindwings.  You can tell them apart from other dragonflies by their yellow bodies with black markings and their red eyes.  Another closely related species, the Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea) is similar in shape and size and found in many of the same locations, including Prairie Ridge, but their bodies are browner and they have distinct, dark spots at the base of the hindwings.   Few dragonflies look like Wandering Gliders, which makes them one of the easier species to identify at ponds.

Wandering Gliders might not be the most colorful dragonflies, but they are absolutely amazing creatures!  Few insects rival their flight abilities and their common name reflects some of their interesting flight behaviors.  They are suspected to have one of the longest animal migrations in the world, traveling from India across the ocean to Africa, around central and eastern Africa, and back to India, a trip of about 10,000 miles over a few generations.  They are also one of the only insects in the world found on every continent (except Antarctica) because they can fly all the way across oceans.  They are often seen by sailors far out to sea as they make their journeys over the water.

If that isn’t impressive enough, Wandering Gliders are also known to travel in front of powerful storms, sometimes laying their eggs in small puddles in anticipation of the rains that follow.  The nymphs then develop very quickly, sometimes in as little as 5 weeks, before the water dries up after the storm has passed.  This behavior gives them one of their other common names, the Hurricane Fly, and you may see dense swarms of them just before or after big storms.

Come on out to Prairie Ridge and look for the wonderful Wandering Gliders hunting insects over the prairie or patrolling territories at our pond.  They’ll only be out a few more weeks, so we hope to see you soon!

What Time is it in Nature is a weekly feature highlighting the current plants, animals, and other wildlife at the Musuem’s public outdoor facility, Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Find out more about the natural happenings at Prairie Ridge at our What Time is it in Nature Archive!

(Photo by Chris Goforth)

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