DESTIN, Fla. (WKRG) — From the parking lots to the sand dunes, thousands of dragonflies are bringing a wonderment to Northwest Florida.
The sheer amount of dragonflies at Okaloosa Island’s Princess Beach access on Tuesday, Sept. 20 caused dozens of spectators to stop and watch the buzz.
Insect diagnostician Dr. Meredith Shrader with the Auburn Extension Office explained how and when they come about.
“Dragonflies are wonderful things to see on the coast and they’re there because of the large amounts of rainfall that occur,” said Shrader. “They’re advantageous breeders in water, so they’re going to be laying eggs in streams and ponds and pools, and even puddles that are there long enough for them to lay eggs and complete their life cycle.”
Dragonfly food consists of other insects. Shrader said where mosquitos breed, dragonflies also reproduce.
“Of course, we have mosquitoes that also like to lay eggs in water and so the mosquitoes get eaten by the dragonflies, so the dragonflies have a wonderful food source down on the coast,” said Shrader.
The doctor herself even found baby dragonflies this year in unexpected places.
“I’ve seen them this summer in the children’s paddling pool,” said Shrader. “We had about five dragonfly nymphs in the paddling pool feeding on the mosquito larva, so that was something fun for the children to see since we see the dragonflies as adults flying around, but very few people know that dragonfly nymphs are the baby versions, and they live in the water, eating things like mosquito larva and worms, and sometimes even tadpoles if they can get them.”
What the dragonflies eat also depends on their size.
“Larger dragonfly nymphs will go after tadpoles, and then when they’re adults there, the larger dragonflies are going to be able to take down moths and butterflies and the smaller dragonflies go after the smaller prey items such as flies or mosquitoes or gnats,” said Shrader. “But they still can consume a lot of those items so the dragonflies are helping us out a lot by consuming some of those mosquitoes around the environment.”
A group of dragonflies is called a flight. When they are feeding together is called a static swarm, when flying from area to area, it’s called a migratory swarm.
These animals however are not known to migrate long-term. Instead, they reproduce in areas with high concertation of their food source. Shrader said spotting flights on the beach makes sense because that’s where mosquitos will be.
“The mosquitoes are attracted to humans and you know our body heat and the CO2 we give off, and so the mosquitoes are there and then the dragonflies follow their prey items,” said Shrader. “And the water environment is good for them as a laying environment and also the types of flowers that can be around and also the grasses, the dragonflies like to use those long dune grasses to kind of perch on and rest.”
What can you do with Dragonflies?
In short, enjoy them. Dr. Shrader said kids of all ages can have a ball with the flying insects.
“Dragonflies can be wonderful little pets for the day. If you capture one using a sweep net or a butterfly net, you can, being very careful, tie a string onto one of the legs of the dragonfly,” said Shrader. “Don’t let toddlers hold them of course, because they have, you know, squishy hands, they like to squish things. But older children can have that dragonfly as a pet for a day on the string.”
Dragonflies are commonly seen in the fall months in Florida. Dr. Shrader said they will stick around until the first hard frost.
“The dragonflies are out in full force right now. They’ve had, you know, the summer to grow in the water and hatch out and they’re out eating all sorts of insects around,” said Shrader. “Unfortunately, the hard frost tends to kill a lot of the insects, so we shouldn’t be able to see them now until, you know, late October, beginning of November depending on when that hard frost happens.”