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Migration - It’s not just for the birds!

June 28, 2016
Kevin Williams - Grundy County Conservation Director , Reinbeck Courier

I have written about dragonflies before in this column. Sometimes when I am under the gun for a topic it feels like I have written about everything before! But I spotted a little different one the other day from your "run of the mill" dragonflies that I encounter.

I was out at the wetland area at Grundy County Lake and stopped for a minute to observe a dragonfly as it cruised along the edge of the water and dry vegetation. This little fella was a Common Green Darner (Anex junius) whose actions in the air looked like it could rival the most sophisticated aircraft yet developed or even imagined by our country's top aeronautics engineers. When man builds aircraft that fly sideways, upside down, backwards, or hover we are so impressed with that accomplishment. Yet few of us really appreciate those same things performed by dragonflies as a part of their existence.

I called it a fella earlier and with Common Green Darners you can tell the difference between males and females. Females' abdomens are black and pink. Males' abdomens are black and blue. Both sexes have a beautiful green thorax.

Seeing this wetland acrobat then made me think about migration. Now when I see a group of Blue-winged Teal or Shovelers or Coot on the marsh in the spring I often think about migration but did you know that many kinds of dragonflies migrate, too?

The Common Green Darner has been studied quite a lot. In September, when many species of birds are getting ready to migrate south, the Common Green Darner is staging for migration, as well. And even if they wait awhile longer before starting south, that's OK, because they can fly at 25-30 MPH and could probably make the trip in only a week or a week and a half!

Scientists have observed large numbers of them traveling with American Kestrels (who help themselves to the free lunch of dragonflies as they migrate along). They also will travel with less predatory companions like Monarch Butterflies and hummingbirds.

But what is so mind boggling to me is that when the adult Darners reach the Gulf Coast, they breed, they lay eggs, and then they die. It is their offspring the next generation of young adults - that head north in the spring. When they arrive, they breed in shallow lakes and ponds and during the course of the summer, one or more generations of dragonflies will live and die before they head south again.

There are over 50 species of dragonflies that can be found in Grundy County. If you want to learn more, I would highly recommend a cool website about Iowa dragonflies



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