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Dragonflies on Perches (What Time is it in Nature)

August 1, 2015

There have been huge numbers of dragonflies at Prairie Ridge this year, and any visit to the pond will likely result in your seeing hundreds of individuals representing a dozen or more species.  However, not all of our dragonflies spend all of their time at the pond!  You’ll find hundreds more over the prairie and in the arboretum.  Sometimes you’ll see them sitting on the dirt, but you’ll also see a lot of dragonflies sitting like this:

Blue Dasher pair on perch

Photo by Chris Goforth

Those are perching dragonflies, dragonflies sitting on a high point in the landscape and looking out over the surrounding area.

Dragonflies are generally divided into two groups, the perchers and the fliers.  The flier group is made up of species that spend most of their active time during the day flying and rarely take breaks to sit on plants or other perches.  The fliers include many of the best known migratory dragonflies, such as the Common Green Darner and the Wandering Glider, unsurprising given that these species are known to fly thousands of miles and cross huge expanses of oceans without taking a break.  Many fliers have broad wings and they tend to be large relative to other dragonflies.

Perchers are a little less active than the fliers.  While fliers feed, mate, lay eggs, and protect their territories from usurpers while on the wing, perchers like to sit in one place and look out over their territories.  If a prey insect flies by or a male or female dragonfly of the same species enters the territory, the resident percher will fly from its perch and grab the prey, chase the challenging male away (or at least attempt to!), or mate with the arriving female.  Otherwise, you’ll find them standing still on a perch.

When you visit Prairie Ridge, look out over the tops of the grasses in the prairie or at the tops of twiggy trees.  You’ll often see dragonflies perched, such as this Blue Dasher:

Blue dasher on perch

Photo by Chris Goforth

Blue Dashers are a prime example of the percher lifestyle!  They’re relatively small and relatively weak fliers, so they spend a lot of their day perched.  The best males are able to claim and protect perches overlooking the water, but there’s only so much space at a pond and not every male will find a territory.  The inferior males are often found perching over the prairie, darting out from their perches to feed.  You may also see female dragonflies perching over the grasses.

Some dragonflies seem to prefer perching on the prairie grasses to spending their days at one of the Prairie Ridge ponds.  The Halloween Pennants are rarely spotted at either body of water or any of the vernal pools that occasionally form on the grounds, but you will see them sitting on prairie grasses:

Halloween Pennant on perch

Photo by Chris Goforth

Other species, such as this Slaty Skimmer, are found on perches along the edges of the ponds as well as in the prairie:

Slaty Skimmer on perch

Photo by Chris Goforth

This one has adopted a posture that helps him deal with the recent hot weather.  By pointing his abdomen down toward the ground rather than holding his body parallel to the ground, this dragonfly is reducing the amount of sun hitting his dark body and helping him stay cool.

Now is a fantastic time to see dragonflies at Prairie Ridge – they’re everywhere!  Look for them over the mown grassy lawns, in sunny patches along the Forest Trail through the arboretum, near the pond, and perching on the prairie grasses or trees.  You’re sure to see many of them on any upcoming visit!

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

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