By Wayne Bierbaum
I have to admit that summer is my least favorite time of the year. I do not like biting insects. The biting flies are unpleasant and really disturbing if you go into a salt marsh, but the new pesky Asian tiger mosquito is the new king of the yard.
Because they will attack day or night and are hard to see, they discourage anyone from going outside without insect repellent. This mosquito is said to be able to have 50 larvae become flying biting machines from just a soda capful of water. And that is in just two weeks. So, once a week, I go through dumping all standing water that I can find: planters, birdbaths, downspouts, etc.
A few mosquitos still hang about. Last year, I enlisted the help of several swift-flying specialized mosquito eaters: dragonflies.
Dragonflies can eat several hundred mosquitoes a day. The most common dragonfly in my yard is the blue darner. They are small and grayish blue with vertical greenish stripes on the thorax. They seem territorial and last summer one returned to the same perch for a couple of weeks. They tend to attack mosquitoes from a perch or short flights.
The second most common is the low-flying common whitetail. As their name implies, their abdomen is a bluish white and they have black bands on the middle of their wings. These dragonflies seem to like to patrol their area. They fly a foot or two off the ground around the edge of the grass and grab the things they stir up.
Another dragonfly that occasionally came around was the Eastern pondhawk. They are bright green with some black stripes on the abdomen. They seem to like to perch nearly on the ground and blend in with the grass. They feed by staying low and suddenly swooping up.
My most uncommon visitor is the most colorful: the Halloween pennant. It is a golden color with three black stripes on each wing. It is a dragonfly that perches and also hovers before swooping to grab and insect. They are great for photos and fun to watch but I have only seen a couple a year visit my yard.
To make my yard more attractive and safer for dragonflies, I do two simple things. First, I avoid using pesticides. There is a lot of collateral damage when trying to eliminate certain insects. I did use moldy spore once for grubs.
Second, I have placed perching sticks around the gardens. I originally put the perches in for hummingbirds to rest but dragonflies started using them. So, I put out more.
I think the next thing would be to put in a year-round fish pond with plants. Since dragonflies can take over a year to mature in their aquatic phase, the pond has to be able to over-winter.
I like the idea that a common whitetail dragonfly circling around me is my personal mosquito protector.