|Print | Close|
Release Date: April 01, 2008
Sussex County, New Jersey is home to more species of dragonflies than any other county in North America. If you've ever wondered about those flying wonders zipping across your pond or stream and doing amazing aerobatics, check out this article about dragons and damsels!
Did you ever notice those large insects zipping over streams and ponds all summer long, skimming the water, then shooting about in zig zag patterns that make your head spin watching them? Dragonflies and damselflies, collectively belonging to the taxonomic order Odonata, are named for their significant biting mouthparts and predatory nature. Not to worry - they don't bite or sting people! Amazing is the fact that there are more species of dragonflies in Sussex County, New Jersey (145 - out of a possible 182 in NJ) than any other county in the United States. Dragonflies, by definition, are stout and large bodied with round heads and eyes covering much of the top and sides of the head. The forewings and hind wings are different shapes and are held straight out to the sides while resting. They are strong fliers. Damselflies, on the other hand, are more delicate and small bodied. Their abdomen is narrow, their head is wider than long and the eyes are separated by more than their own width. Distinctive from dragonflies, damselfly forewings and hind wings are similar in shape and held either pressed above the body or are only partially open at rest. For the most part, they are much weaker fliers. In New Jersey, the season for dragonflies and damselflies runs from April through October although the best month for spotting the most species would be June. This coincides with the photoperiod - length of daylight - increasing and moderating temperatures.
Now that we're intrigued, how do we get started identifying dragonflies? Close focus binoculars are the first piece of equipment necessary - they should preferably focus down to 5 to 7 feet. A digital camera with close focus capability helps when referring back to species seen that day in the field. Next, a 10x loupe or magnifying glass is helpful in making distinctions between closely related species. There are now many field guides available, including the Stokes Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies, Damselflies of the Northeast by Ed Lam and the Field Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies of Massachusetts by Nikula, Loose and Burne (applicable for NJ) and Dragonflies Through Binoculars by Sid Dunkle.
With binoculars and field guides in hand, there's still time this season to take a hike and watch these winged wonders. Additionally, there are groups out there that conduct field trips to identify birds and butterflies. Check websites for www.naba.org for butterfly trips and www.sussexcountybirdclub.org for birding trips. Hope to see you out and about in Sussex County! Stay tuned for more articles on birds, butterflies, open space and farms in our county.