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F.U.N. News Issue #8

Dances with Dragonflies

By Billy Greer

We have a wonderful backyard! We don't use any pesticides, we have lots of trees, we let some areas grow wild, and we are next to 500 acres of woods. As a result, we see all kinds of interesting animals.

One hot summer day, we were lazily sitting on the deck watching dragonflies dart around. Glen noticed they frequently lighted on the tall grass in one of our wild areas. "Why do they like landing on that grass?" he asked me. "Why do you think?" I replied. "Maybe they're resting, but they like to be high so they can see all around." 

I thought that seemed reasonable. I seemed to remember that dragonflies, like many predatory insects, had vision that was optimized for reacting to movement. If I remembered correctly, they paid little attention to the shape of stationary objects. I walked over to the grass, and the dragonflies zipped off to another part of the yard. But as I stood there without moving, they soon returned.

I noticed how the grasses gently swayed in the breeze. I mimicked the motion, slowly reaching out my arm as I swayed back and forth. Soon my hand was right next to the dragonfly. As I swayed forward, I let my finger gently brush against it. The dragonfly didn't fly away - I was excited to be petting a live dragonfly!

I called the kids over so they could watch me pet my new friend. They wanted to know why it didn't fly away. I explained my slow approach and that because of my movements the dragonfly wasn't threatened and may have thought I was just a twig brushing against it from the wind. Next, they wanted to know if they could try it. I explained what to do and stood by 8 year-old Glen as he made his attempt. I was surprised at how patient he was and when he finally touched the dragonfly, his expression was priceless. Next, 4 year-old Lane gave it a try. Again, I was amazed at her patience and total concentration. Unfortunately, as she got close, it became clear that she wasn't quite tall enough to reach her dragonfly. I slowly came up behind her then picked her up so she could reach, and she was able to pet it!

Flushed with our success, we returned to the deck talking about how "cool" it was to see the dragonflies up close and to actually pet them. Observing them flying over the deck and occasionally landing on the deck railing, we decided to see if they would like to land on something higher. We all stood with our arms in the air and gently swayed in the breeze. I'm sure we must have been a strange sight, but it worked! After several minutes, a passing dragonfly slowed, changed direction and landed on my outstretched finger. I sat down, and Glen was now the tallest object on the deck. Sure enough, after a few more minutes, a dragonfly landed on his hand. He sat down to let Lane try. Her hand was barely higher than the rails around the deck and didn't seem to attract much interest from the dragonflies. Just as I thought she was about to give up, a dragonfly landed on her finger!

We felt excited and privileged to dance with the dragonflies that day. We opened our eyes to things that usually went by unnoticed, and now the kids have a great story they like to tell. Did you ever pet a dragonfly. . .?

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