If you are at all like me, the worst part of gardening is the swarms of tiny bloodsuckers that are flying around you! And their bite makes you itch for days! There never seems to be enough mosquito spray in the world on the days when they are absolutely voracious! I’ve been told that they love me so much that they’d follow me to the moon!
Mosquitos have a well-earned reputation for being bad bugs. They can transmit pathogens and are the world's leading spreader of diseases and parasites that kill 725,000 people a year! Spreading Malaria, West Nile, Dengue Fever, Chikungunya virus, Yellow fever, Zika virus, and many other types of mosquito-borne illnesses throughout every continent except Antarctica.
So these pesky nuisances and that itchy bump we deal with here in the US are often the worst that happens to us - and for that, we should be grateful!
So what can we do to deter these little flying vampires in our gardens? Send in the Dragonflies!
Harmless to people and not stinging or biting us (unless you REALLY tick one off), Dragonfly mandibles usually cannot break our skin. However, with those mandibles and their incredible flight abilities, a single Dragonfly can eat its own body weight in bugs every half hour - earning them the nickname Mosquito Hawks.
These flying predators have been found in the fossil record as far back as 325 million years ago. Belonging to the order Odonata, there are about 5,000 species of these unique insects alive today.
Adults live may only live for a few weeks but others live up to a year while others live just over 6 years. Those longer-living Dragonflies form swarms and even migrate for the winter.
Their lovely paired sets of long slender wings resemble stained glass! Dragonflies spread their wings open wide and Damselflies fold their wings up neatly. Both have wings that move independently, allowing them to fly forward, backward, side to side, and everywhere in between - even hovering completely stationary! These jet fighters of the bug worlds can fly at speeds up to 30-35 miles per hour!
Their compound eyes give them nearly 360 degrees of vision, have 30,000 facets, and allow them to grab a meal on the wing - snatching it right from the sky! But if they can’t fly, they can’t eat - only able to eat while on the wing so an injured Dragonfly will starve to death. In fact, the only place they can’t see is directly behind them because their entire head is almost entirely eyeballs!
A single Dragonfly can eat hundreds of Mosquitoes a day! With a 97% success rate, they are masters at catching food while in flight, eating their bodyweight in bugs a day! They also eat other flying pests, such as gnats, flies, and black flies - and anything they can catch.
Damselflies, Dragonflies, and Darters all live out a majority (up to 2 years) of their lives as aquatic predators, these are as voracious as they are in their adult form. Once they are ready, they hatch and take to the sky!
As juvenile larvae (nymphs), they eat loads of Mosquito larvae and about anything else they can catch including small fish, each other, and tadpoles! Once mature, they climb out of the water and molt.
Since most of their life is in water, having a water source year-round and food in that water is a vital step in attracting these aerial beneficial predators! But don’t worry if you don’t have a pond, Dragonflies aren’t keen on staying in one place and spread out to find their own hunting grounds. Often traveling miles from a water source in search of food. Since they can fly so fast, distance isn’t a problem for them. So the next step in attracting them is giving them a place worthy of calling home!
If you have room, maintaining a pond large enough to support a small ecosystem where Dragonflies will be able to lay their eggs and have enough food to support them as nymphs is a good start. Be sure it isn’t cleaned out completely every winter - they lay eggs in and hide in the muck at the bottom, and the larvae have a place to hibernate. Also, ensure the pond is deep enough so the nymphs won’t freeze solid in the winter. Pick a pond that’s at least 2 feet deep and as large as possible. Or try planting a Bog or Rain Garden!
Tall trees, shrubs, and perennials where Dragonflies and Darners can land on, hide in and perch on are their favorites and luckily Nature Hills has no shortage of those available for you!
Avoid spraying regularly with pesticides and other things that kill their food, and the Dragonflies themselves, and try to avoid bug zappers for the same reason! Spraying herbicides can also make Dragonflies sick since the bugs they eat may be covered in the chemicals when they get eaten. So organic methods and non-chemical options are your best bet.
You will recognize many of the plants that attract these little dynamos are the same that also attract pollinators and other beneficial insects!
Usually found near wet, boggy or soggy areas - coincidentally a Mosquito's favorite haunt - are the favorite hunting grounds for Dragonflies! Grassy areas and prairies with a water source and plenty of brightly colored flowers, tall waving stems, and sunny perches attract Dragonflies and their cousins in swarms.
Other Garden additions that Dragonflies and their family appreciate are flat rocks for basking on in the sun, and tall wispy plants for them to perch on, watch for prey, and to dry their wings after molting.
These plants are great for creating your own pollinator gardens, wetland gardens, prairie plantings, and Children's Gardens!
There are several species of these great beneficial insects here in the US!
Skimmers are one of the largest Dragonfly families and include Emeralds (aka Green Eyed Skimmers), Common Whitetails, Widow Skimmers, and Great Blue Skimmers, they also include Four-Spotted, Eight-Spotted, and Twelve-Spotted Skimmers. Named because of how they seem to skim low to the ground and just barely above the surface of the water.
Are often brown and olive green large Dragonflies that prefer to fly down streets, rivers, roads, and other more straight paths, scooping up anything they can catch.
Named by the method they seen to fly like a sewing needle darning a piece of clothing, Darners are bright colored fliers. Common Darner females are usually yellow and green (look like camouflage paint jobs!) and males are often blue with darker upper bodies.
The oldest family members of Dragonflies are the Petaltails, which are named so because of a petal-looking orange spike the male's sport. Spiketails are often found in forest and stream areas in the Rockies and are large Dragonflies with dark brown abdomens and bright yellow stripes.
While most Dragonflies have long, slender abdomens, the Clubtail has a bulbous end to their bodies. Often a mix of olive greens, black to brown and white accents, there is only one kind of Clubtail found around the US.
Smaller and slower than their larger cousins, Jewelwing Damselflies and Narrow-Winged Damsels have similar bodies and eyes as Dragonflies, but many Damselflies are different. Instead of their wings laying outstretched and open across their backs, Jewelwings and some other Spreadwing Damselflies keep their wings neatly folded up on their backs instead. Living life on the casual side, they are not the jet fighters their larger cousins are.
Always vibrantly colored, Damselflies are more fairy-like when they fly!
With 200 species of Mosquito in the US, only the females bite. Like ticks, No-See-Ums, and Fleas - female Mosquitoes need a drop of blood to lay their eggs, which can be up to 100 at a time and in a water source.
Attracted to the carbon dioxide from our breath and something in our sweat, there are several theories floating around that explain why some people are more preyed upon than others - from blood type to what they eat.
There are natural and organic insecticides, foggers and sprays you can use around larger shrubs and places Mosquitoes like to hide - including patio furniture, unattended birdbaths, or in a carport, shed, or garage. Just avoid spraying your flowering shrubs and perennials, vegetable gardens, and pond plants where Dragonflies and other beneficial insects and pollinators like to hide.
The next best defense is not leaving standing water anywhere! Mosquitoes lay eggs in any amount of standing water, so get rid of all those tires laying around, outdoor containers and pots, drip trays, buckets, unused kiddie pools, trash cans, and low areas in the yard that let water frequently pool. Treat water you cannot dump out with larvicides or drops of bleach if able, or use a fountain or a bubbler to keep the water moving.
There are several methods that are almost 100% effective to chase away these bugs - most notably Mosquito repellent sprays we can wear, burning incense and citronella candles, to less proven methods like burning coffee grounds and traps made of sugar and yeast. Yellow LED lighting and Cedar mulch have been said to help too.
Outdoors you can plant aromatic plants that repel Mosquitoes like scented Herbs, scented Geraniums, Eucalyptus, Marigolds, Nasturtiums, and Citronella plants outdoors help. Keeping your lawn short and bushes trimmed and manicured since this allows Mosquitoes fewer areas to hide in too.
Indoors ensure screens are free of holes, direct a fan to blow them away from you, and even some types of soap repel them. Mosquitoes lie in wait in dark, humid places like under the sink and anywhere there is frequently moisture. Employ air conditioners to remove humidity from the air, so it also dries up these skinny wisps of legs and wings. That’s why you won’t see them flying in the full sun - they can dry right up!
If you are as tasty to these bloodsuckers as I am, there’s even Mosquito-proof and Mosquito-repellent clothing, long sleeves and pantlegs, and fine mesh clothing and hats you can wear that help keep them from physically getting to you when you absolutely need to be outdoors for long periods of time.
And if you do get bitten?
Hopefully, this will help you fight bites this summer! Combined with a few other methods of sanitation and some planning, this summer will be one with less itching! Fend off the pesky biting swarms by attracting a far more insatiable appetite!
Want to do more to help Dragonflies? Join groups and donate your time and money to conserve wetlands, create your own Dragonfly Garden, and use less pesticide!
Let NatureHills.com help you attract Dragonflies to your garden for a bug-free gardening experience each summer!