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Dragonflies: gatekeepers of the garden

My friends Beth and Gary Price have built a magical backyard. Through years of loving cultivation, creative vision, and hard work, they have coaxed the very best from their outside space in the Gardnerville Ranchos, and a step through their arbored gate transports visitors to a true garden of delight.

Welcoming sitting areas, thoughtfully arranged throughout the yard, invite one to settle and rest in the shade of an expansive maple tree. In a far corner facing the towering Sierra Nevada, tucked beneath a lush cascade of honeysuckle, a two-seat swing offers a cozy respite from the cares of the day. Rows of colorful blooming plants and robust shrubbery thrive along the length of their wooden fence. Low-lying sedum lines the spaces between a rustic stepping stone pathway, and the cool grass provides a heavenly cushion under bare feet.

It is no surprise that all manner of creatures are drawn to this sweet and special place. Recently, Beth sent me a photo of a large dragonfly that swooped through their yard for an afternoon visit. The insect was so impressive and majestic that Beth reverently captioned the picture she sent as, “Fly Dragon,” which I love. With its iridescent, transparent wings and teal colored body seemingly spotted with crystals, this insect had an otherworldly beauty. I’ve never seen a dragonfly quite so sparkly.

Dragonflies are fascinating for reasons far beyond their outer beauty. Known for their flying agility, they are astonishingly effective hunters and feed insatiably on other airborne insects, including gnats and mosquitoes, which they catch mid-flight. The majority of a dragonfly’s life, however, is spent underwater.

After mating, female dragonflies lay their eggs in fresh water. Once hatched, the dragonfly nymphs spend anywhere from several months up to 5 years living in their aquatic home, feeding on other insect larva, worms, small tadpoles, and fish. During this time, they shed their skin numerous times (a process called molting) before leaving the water and settling onto a nearby rock or vegetation in preparation for their final molt. The adult dragonfly finally emerges to fulfill the remainder of its lifespan, which generally lasts from one to eight weeks.

Dragonflies are thought to bring good luck and symbolize positivity, joy, transformation, and adaptability. Other than the picture of Beth and Gary’s breathtaking Fly Dragon, I’ve seen just one so far this year, but I’m keeping my eyes open for more glimpses of these fantastical flying wonders.

Go to the National Science Foundation webpage at https://www.nsf.gov/news/mmg/mmg_disp.jsp?med_id=72974 to watch an informative and stunning video of adult dragonflies hunting prey. The Missouri Department of Conservation website features some great pictures of dragonfly larvae at https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/dragonfly-larvae.

Amy Roby can be reached at ranchosroundup@hotmail.com.