Beautiful Native Plants

Blog HOME ***Our team of bloggers writes about all aspects of ecosystem gardening, from native plants to pollinators and wildlife.***

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Attracting Damsels and Dragons

Common green darners (Anax junius)
mating and laying eggs under the water’s surface.
Many people have long been interested in birding and butterfly gardening, but with the availability of new dragonfly & damselfly field guides, more folks are now identifying and pursuing these interesting insects. And with their beautiful coloration and fun names like variable dancer, common green darner, eastern pondhawk, little blue drogonlet, how can anyone resist?  Plus they eat mosquitoes!

Even the Audubon Society has been spending more time covering dragonflies and damselflies online and in its magazine.

This is from their July/August issue:
"Once you start watching dragonflies, you can’t help but notice how amazing they are. They fly at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour, zip forward and backward, pivot in a flash, and hover with ease."

Dragons vs. Damsels

These insects belong to the order Odonata, which is divided into a number of different families–in Florida, there are nine families. But most people divide them into two main groups–the damselflies and dragonflies. Here’s how to tell them apart:
• When perching, damselflies hold their wings together or partially spread, while dragonflies hold their wings open when at rest, although some dragonflies tilt their wings slightly forward when perching.
• Dragonfly eyes meet at or near the top of the head, while damselfly eyes are set apart.
• Damselflies usually have thin bodies, while dragonfly bodies are normally thicker.

You probably see both types of odonates around your neighborhood.
A damselfly and a dragonfly share a spatterdock pad.

You need a water feature

The larvae of the Odonata are aquatic and are called nymphs or naiads. These naiads are voracious predators and have a lower jaw that can be extended forward about one third of the body length in order to capture prey. Mosquito larvae are a favorite.

The larvae molt their exoskeletons several times in order to grow and with each molt they begin to develop adult characteristics. It’s important to have emergent vegetation in your water feature or pond where stems grow from under water up into the air. This is important for the odonates, because their final larval molt occurs above water. The naiad must climb a stem before it can emerge from its last larval exoskeleton as an adult.

Water attracts dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies, and predators such as frogs.

This drawing by Marjorie Shropshire is from my book, “Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida.” Attracting predators is a big part of an effective organic garden and a water feature can make a big difference.

Your water feature does not need to be huge to attract the damsels and the dragons, but one that’s well designed as habitat will also host frogs, butterflies, and othr critters. And all these critters in turn attract their predators such as birds. When you install a water feature, or better yet, dig a more sizable pond, pretty soon you’ll have a working ecosystem that sustains itself.

A little blue dragonlet (Erythrodiplax minuscula).

Eastern pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) on a mulched surface.

The tiny eastern amberwing (Perithemis tenera) measures only an inch from wingtip to wingtip.

To attract their prey, plant natives in your landscape

You often see dragonflies and damselflies perched in areas where they are likely to encounter their prey.  And what better place than amongst the plants that attract pollinators, the native wildflowers?

I’ve talked about the importance of native plants previously, and of course, this is the theme of this blog. More on this on the following posts:
Snow squarestem: A bee and butterfly magnet
Maypop, a native butterfly & bee magnet
Doug Tallamy!
An Inch-by-Inch Decoration Feat
One Native Plant = Three Habitat Benefits
Cheer for the Predators in Ecosystem Gardening
Getting Started with Native Plants in Florida

A damselfly, the variable dancer (Argia fumipennis), waiting for prey on Florida native, blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum). Don’t you just love how the tip of its abdomen matches the flower color exactly?


In order to have these beautiful, but fierce, dragonflies and damselflies populate your landscape, you need an appropriate water feature with emergent vegetation and you must not use poisons.  It’s worth the effort because they are excellent predators of other bugs both as larvae and adults.


• The order Odonata explained in University of Florida’s Featured Creatures.
• Audubon’s suggestions for dragonfly field guides.

© Ginny Stibolt