Migrating Dragonflies

Common Green Darner Dragonfly. Photo by Donna L. Long.
Common Green Darner Dragonfly. Photo by Donna L. Long.

Dragonfly migrate in the spring and fall. I often see dragonflies flying across asphalt parking lots and wonder where they are going. Now I know, in the fall they are traveling to warmer regions where there are plenty of insects to eat. In the spring they are returning to breed.

Data collected from a 10-year study in the UK found that more than 3.3 trillion insects migrate above southern Britain every year especially in the spring and fall. That’s more than migrating birds!

Dragonflies in the Ecosystem

Dragonflies are freshwater wetland inhabitants and good indicators of aquatic ecosystem health. Both the aquatic-living larvae and the winged adults are voracious predators. They generally eat prey that is smaller than themselves. The larvae eat small aquatic insects. The adults eat mosquitoes, biting flies, and other insects.

Dragonfly larvae are eaten by water birds and fish. The adults feed small hawks and predatory birds. The adults see to be a food source for migrating hawks. The two animals migrate at the same time. This is either by design or luck for the hawks.

 

Where to Observe Dragonfly Migration

Whenever you see large numbers of dragonflies traveling in the same directions, you are most likely seeing a migration.

Migrating individuals are seen as early as mid-April. There migrations are probably finished by mid-June.

I often see several dragonflies flying across open areas such as parking lots, schoolyards, meadows, and gardens. The tip off for me is the time of year spring or fall, and how far away is the nearest freshwater source.

The study of dragonfly migrations is relatively new. Except for a few species, the routes they take are unknown. Also the journey south may not be the same route they take north.

How They Migrate

Dragonflies fly at altitudes thousands of feet in the sky above our heads. They use the same flyways as fall migrating raptors and geese. People have noticed when dragonflies migrate so are hawks. The hawks must be feeding on the dragonflies.

They fly by flapping their wings a couple of times then glide. They use the wind to carry them along. This saves energy. And they need it, some species of dragonflies have been observed flying across oceans and to distant continents.

The Globe Skimmer has been observed to fly over 4,400 miles from India to Africa. Since dragonflies need freshwater to mate, they leave India as the dry season approaches and fly to African areas that are moist.

 

Migrating Dragonflies of North America

There are at least 16 species of dragonflies that migrate across North America. Here are the main five. That is only five species to learn to identify.

  1. Common Green Darner (Anax junius)
  2. Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum)
  3. Black Saddlebags (Trameala lacerata) and several other species of saddlebags
  4. Wandering Glider Dragonfly also called Global Skimmer (Pantala flavescens)
  5. Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea)
  6. Winged Dragonlet (Erythro- diplax umbrata)

These dragonflies are known to migrate in spring and fall.

Common Green Darner (Anax junius)

 

Common Green Darner Dragonfly. Photo by Donna L. Long.
Common Green Darner Dragonfly. Photo by Donna L. Long.

 

Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum)

 

dragonfly_ Variegated Meadowhawk, male (Sympetrum corruptum)

Variegated Meadowhawk, male (Sympetrum corruptum). Eugene Zelenko, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Black Saddlebags (Trameala lacerata)

black saddlebags dragonfly
Black Saddlebags Dragonfly (Tramea_laceraa). Photo courtesy of ALAN SCHMIERER, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens) also called Globe Skimmer in some parts of the world

dragonfly_Pantala_flavescens_(globe_skimmer)_in_flight,_side_view
Globe Skimmer (Pantala flavescens). Basile Morin, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea)

dragonfly_spotted glider
Spot-winged Glider ((Pantala hymenaea). Melissa McMasters from Memphis, TN, United States, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

How the Green Darner Dragonfly Migrates

Global Skimmer: The Dragonfly that Flies from India to Africa (video)

 

More Dragonfly Information

Download A Free Dragonfly Field Guide – I stumbled across this colorful guide and thought I would share it with you. The brochure is provided by the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership (MDP).http://www.migratorydragonflypartnership.org/uploads/_ROOT/File/MDP-field_guide.pdf

Dragonflies of Philadelphia: A Checklist

The Blue Dasher, A Dragonfly That Zings

Dragonfly Focused Citizen Science Projects

Migratory Dragonfly Partnership helps science track the migration of the five main migrating dragonflies.
http://www.migratorydragonflypartnership.org/index/welcome

Dragonfly Migration: The Journey North 
Information about migration along with nature journaling prompts.

Odontacentral.org
“Odonata Central is a citizen science database concerning the distribution and abundance of Odonates including Dragonflies and Damselflies.”

More on Dragonflies and Dragonfly Migration

The answer is blowing in the wind: Globe Skimmer migration over the Indian Ocean. By Johanna Hedlund (YouTube.com)

These two field guides are available on Amazon.com. These are affiliate links and I recieve a small commission at no cost to you.

Paulson, Dennis R. Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East. Princeton Field Guides. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2011.
———. Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West. Princeton Field Guides. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.

 

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