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Home & Garden

Learning to Grow in St. Charles: How to welcome dragonflies to your yard

Dragonflies are aerial artists and beneficial to gardens.
Dragonflies are aerial artists and beneficial to gardens.

When I was a child, I was told by other children that if a dragonfly flew near your ear, you would go deaf. For years, I fled from these wonderful creatures with my hands clamped over my ears.

That was then, and this is now. Dragonflies have become some of my favorite creatures. Their flight is magical, and they are actually beneficial to your garden.

Dragonflies are ancient. They were some of the first insects to appear, around 300 million years ago, which is perhaps why they have a somewhat prehistoric look.

They are exceptional flyers because they have two sets of wings and can manipulate each set independently. They have amazing agility and can hover like a hummingbird for as long as a minute, and fly in almost any direction that they choose, which makes them deadly to prey.

Which prey you might be wondering? Gnats, mosquitoes, horse flies, small bugs and, OK, sometimes butterflies and moths, but they really prefer the first three. I don’t think I have ever seen one take down a butterfly (which I would consider a no-no), but wow, I have seen them go after mosquitoes and swarming gnats.

They can calculate the speed and direction of a creature and angle their flight to intercept them with almost 100% success. This is because of that ability to rapidly change direction.

Their eyes are compound and hold 30,000 facets. Their only blind spot is behind them, so they have almost 360-degree vision, which is why they can avoid collisions in a swarm while closing in on an individual target.

How do you attract them? I found this out completely by chance. I was staking plants in my garden when I saw the creatures. I ran and grabbed my camera. It seems that dragonflies like to perch in order to rest, hide and survey the scene. I knew that they liked to perch in water, but did not realize they will do this in areas where no water is present.

So if you would like to attract these creatures to your garden and put them to work for you where no water is present, try tucking a bamboo pole into the ground in a somewhat secluded, sunny place – and keep your camera handy.

• Donna Mack is a University of Illinois Extension Kane County master gardener. The Learning to Grow column runs during warmer months of the year. Email the extension office at uiemg-kane@illinois.edu for more information.

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