Dragonflies are beautiful, beneficial and fascinating

Take a walk along a healthy pond in Georgia this time of year and you’re bound to see some of our most beautiful and spectacular insects hovering or darting over the water and the shoreline. They are dragonflies and damselflies, which come in an amazing range of colors, sizes and behaviors.

Dragonflies and damselflies are closely related, belonging to the insect order Odonata. Georgia has more than 120 dragonfly species and more than 50 species of damselflies, according to naturalist Giff Beaton in his book “Dragonflies & Damselflies of Georgia and the Southeast.” Many “odonates” occur statewide, but some are found only in certain parts of the state and at certain times of the year.

Nearly all of them, however, need water in which to lay their eggs and for their larvae to develop into adults. Some species need only a rain-filled puddle; others prefer ponds, rivers, marshes or swamps.

On a sunny day last weekend, we took a walk to look for “pond odonates” along a large, peaceful pond ringed with lush vegetation at Hard Labor Creek State Park near Rutledge in Morgan County.

Leading us was park naturalist Phil Delestrez. “Dragonflies have interesting body plans — a long tail and four wings (attached to) a very strong thorax,” he noted. “They’re very fast; they can fly about 25 miles per hour, and they can hover, which a lot of flying insects can’t do.”

They don’t sting or bite, and they’re very beneficial, consuming numerous midges and mosquitoes daily. (Another name for dragonfly is “mosquito hawk.”)

During our hourlong stroll, we spied 10 dragonfly and two damselfly species. Among the dragonflies were the:

— Blue dasher, abundant statewide. Males perch low on vegetation along the shoreline and make frequent patrol flights to chase away competitors.

— Eastern amberwing, found statewide; mimics a wasp in its color patterns and wings and the movements of its abdomen.

— Widow skimmer, one of 37 species of skimmer dragonflies in Georgia.

— Slaty skimmer, mostly dark blue or nearly black (males); common statewide.

— Eastern pond hawk, very common. Female is a brilliant emerald green; male is all blue except for a green face and white appendages at the end of the abdomen.

IN THE SKY: The moon will be new on Tuesday, said David Dundee, Tellus Science Center astronomer. Mercury is low in the east at dawn and will appear near the moon Monday morning. Venus is very low in the west at dusk and sets shortly thereafter. It will appear near the moon on Friday evening, Aug. 9. Mars and Jupiter are low in the east just before sunrise. Mars will appear near the moon Sunday morning. Saturn is low in the southwest just after dark and sets about three hours later.