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Date of Issue: September 20, 2007

Sandscript

Divebombing dragonflies hit Anna Maria Island

Some coastal areas are swarming with dragonflies.

Kim Reid, with ESP Vacation Rentals, noted the flocks of flying bugs on Bridge Street and near Anna Maria Elementary School last week. She added that they are also thick near her Snead Island home.

Phillis Gilreath, an extension agent in Manatee County, said she visited friends at Indian Rocks Beach a while back, and they too commented on the large numbers of the big insects. She also has seen a bunch near her home near Myakka.

So what’s up?

Dr. Phil Koehler with the University of Florida said he suspects the swarms have been spurred by an abonormally dry spring, plus “there must be a lot of food for them to eat.”

He summed it up concisely: “The conditions are great for them.”

Dragonfly facts

According to Wikipedia, “A dragonfly is an insect belonging to the order Odonata, the suborder Epiprocta or, in the strict sense, the infraorder Anisoptera. It is characterized by large multifaceted eyes, two pairs of strong transparent wings and an elongated body.”

And they are our friends, the on line encyclopedia notes. “Dragonflies typically eat mosquitoes, midges and other small insects like flies, bees and butterflies. They are usually found around lakes, ponds, streams and wetlands because their larvae, known as ‘nymphs,’ are aquatic. Dragonflies do not normally bite or sting humans, though they will bite in order to escape, for example, if grasped by the abdomen. In fact, they are valued as a predator that helps control the populations of harmful insects, such as mosquitoes. It is because of this that dragonflies are sometimes called ‘mosquito hawks’ in North America.”

And they can hang around for quite a while: “In the adult stage, larger species of dragonfly can live as long as four months.” That’s ... well, I don’t know how long in bug years, but it’s pretty long.

There are some other interesting things about the little critters. “Dragonflies are the world's fastest insects and, although estimates of their speed vary wildly, most credible authorities say they are capable of reaching speeds of between 19 to 38 mph,” Wikipedia states, adding that some studies indicate they can travel as much as 85 miles in a day.

According to the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida, “There are six families of dragonflies found in Florida, each of which is easily identifiable. These insects are commonly found around ponds and open bodies of fresh water and large blacktop parking lots (perhaps parking lots resemble open bodies of water to odonates in their search for prey and mates).”

Dragonfly folklore

The UF IFAS folks offer some observations of dragonflies in history.

“In Europe, dragonflies have often been viewed as sinister. Some English vernacular names, such as ‘devil's needle’ and ‘ear cutter’ link them with evil or injury. A Romanian folk tale offers that the dragonfly was once a horse possessed by the devil, and Swedish folklore holds that the devil uses dragonflies to weigh people's souls. Another Swedish legend holds that trolls use the dragonflies as spindles when weaving their clothes, as well as sending them to poke out the eyes of their enemies. The Norwegian name for dragonflies is ‘Øyenstikker,’ which literally means ‘Eye Poker.’

“They are often associated with snakes, as in the Welsh name gwas-y-neidr, or ‘adder’s servant.’ The Southern United States term ‘snake doctor’ refers to a folk belief that dragonflies follow snakes around and stitch them back together if they are injured.

“The Lithuanian word "LaumÏirgis" is a composite word meaning ‘the Lauma's horse,’ while in Dutch, Aeshna mixta is called ‘Paardenbijter,’ or ‘horse biter.’ In some South American countries, dragonflies are also called matacaballo (horse killer), or caballito del diablo (devil's horse), since they were perceived as harmful, some species being quite large for an insect.

“For some Native American tribes, they represent swiftness and activity, and for the Navajo they symbolize pure water. Dragonflies are a common motif in Zuni pottery; stylized as a double-barred cross, they appear in Hopi rock art and on Pueblo necklaces. It is said in some Native American beliefs that dragonflies are a symbol of renewal after a time of great hardship.

“In Japan, dragonflies are symbols of courage, strength and happiness, and they often appear in art and literature, especially haiku. In ancient mythology, Japan was known as Akitsushima, which means ‘Land of the Dragonflies.’

“The love for dragonflies is reflected by the fact that there are traditional names for almost all of the 200 species of dragonflies found in and around Japan. Japanese children catch large dragonflies as a game, using a hair with a small pebble tied to each end, which they throw into the air. The dragonfly mistakes the pebbles for prey, gets tangled in the hair, and is dragged to the ground by the weight.”

Sounds like a new sport at school, eh?

Dragonfly history

Also, according to IFAS, dragonflies are among the most ancient of living creatures. Fossil records indicate insects clearly recognizable as the forefathers of our present day odonates go back to ... more than 300 million years, predating dinosaurs by over 100 million years and birds by some 150 million.

“Odonates develop in water and, in order to protect them, it is necessary to study the exact habitat requirements of each individual species and then to protect, conserve and, where possible, increase the number of suitable habitats. The habitat requirements of some species are narrow and these are obviously the ones that are most at risk. Other species ... will survive in almost any kind of water, a few even tolerating water that is brackish. The majority fall between these extremes, some requiring running water, some still water and some bogs and marshes.”

More critter news

Gov. Charlie Crist has intervened in the debate about whether or not to downgrade the status of manatees from “endangered” to “threatened.” He asked, and received, a hold on changing the status at least until December.

The matter was to come before the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission last week.

State environmental regulators have been wrestling with the status change for more than a year. Manatee advocates have said the change is wrong. Boating lobbyists have pushed for the change, saying that the census numbers of the slow-moving marine mammals are climbing every year and that continued protection is no longer needed.

Of course, all this argument comes on the heels of the 416 reported manatee deaths in 2006, with 218 dead so far in 2007. Many of the sea cow deaths are due to “interaction” with boats: 86 last year, 41 as of July 31 of this year.

The governor’s request for a stall is probably only that. FWC commissioners will probably vote for changing the status, at least according to most reports. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Turtle tales to the good

Gopher tortoises received a reprieve by the FWC last week. The state commission agreed that the slow-moving reptiles should be upgraded in protection to “threatened,” rather than the previous listing as “species of special concern.”

FWC commissioners also did away with the “incidental take” aspect of the law regarding the land turtles, a law that allowed developers to bury them as they built housing projects.

The new policy calls for relocation of the tortoises to other areas of the state that are more turtle-friendly, i.e., no development.

 

Sandscript factoid

Egmont Key is home to a huge population of gopher tortoises, and some scientists predicted in the past that it may soon become the last refuge for the big, lumbering critters. With the FWC action, it is hoped that the prediction will prove false.

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