Waiting for Prairie Dragonflies

“Wild beauty sustains us…it makes each of us an heir to wonder.” — Terry Tempest Williams


Crocus bloom in my backyard, bright spots in the brittle little bluestem and prairie dropseed.

Crocus! 3-1-20WMWMWM.jpg

When I see these flower faces turned toward the sun, I know it won’t be long until the dragonflies arrive on the prairie. I check Willoway Brook. Then, the local ponds. A prairie stream.


Under the water’s surface, the dragonfly and damselfly nymphs are waiting.

hines emerald nymphwm 3 119

Soon, they’ll emerge…


…then transform from creatures of the water to their teneral stage. Weak, colorless, they are at the mercy of birds, frogs, and predators with an urge for a “dragonfly crunch” lunch.

TeneralAmericanRubyspotSPMAWilloway6718WM.jpg They slowly transform……

AmericanRubyspot probablyWMNG2016.jpg

…to aerial experts with brilliant coloration.

American Rubyspot SPMAWM

Those eyes!


The diversity of Odonates never ceases to startle…



Eastern amberwing femaleWMSPMA.jpg

…and amaze.


The spreadwing damselflies like this one below (so difficult to ID)….


…remind us there is mystery in the midst of knowledge. Not everything can be known at a glance. Then, later, the white-faced meadowhawk dragonflies show up, their pearl faces lending confidence to their name and ID.


Some early emergents seem to scoff at April snows and colder weather. We may even see green darners working the ponds for early insects by the end of March. Weather permitting. Down south, the migratory dragonflies will begin making their way to the Midwest. They’ll arrive soon—at the end of the month or early in April—the green darners, the wandering gliders, the black saddlebags…


…ready to find a mate.

Carolinasaddlebagsintandem6519WM copy.jpg



…they give us hope for a healthy and prolific Odonate future.


Soon, the prairie will come alive with the whiz and zip of dragonflies and damselflies. Meanwhile, we watch. Anticipating.

emily explores the schulenberg prairie 320WM.jpg

Will you be there to see them return and emerge? Walk the prairie paths. Be alert.

WMTony explores the Schulenberg Prairie 3-2020.jpg

Eyes to the skies.

I can’t wait.


Terry Tempest Williams (1955-) is writer-in-residence at Harvard Divinity School. Her latest book Erosion: Essays of Undoing explores her work as a writer, activist, and educator.

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby and taken in previous dragonfly seasons (Top to Bottom): crocus (Crocus sativus), author’s backyard prairie plantings, Glen Ellyn, IL; stream through Springbrook Prairie, Forest Preserve of DuPage County, Naperville, IL;  Hine’s emerald dragonfly nymph (Somatochlora hineana), Urban Stream Research Center, Blackwell Forest Preserve, Forest Preserve of DuPage County, Warrenville, IL; Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; teneral American Rubyspot damselfly (Hetaerina americana), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; American Rubyspot damselfly (Hetaerina americana), Nachusa Grasslands, Nature Conservancy of Illinois, Franklin Grove, IL; American Rubyspot damselfly (Hetaerina americana), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Carolina saddlebags (Tramea carolina), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; familiar bluet damselfly (Enallagma civile), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy Illinois, Franklin Grove, IL; eastern amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; blue dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; unknown spreadwing (Lestes spp.), Ware Field prairie planting, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  white-faced meadowhawk (Sympetrum obtrusum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; black saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea lacerata), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Carolina saddlebags dragonflies (Tramea carolina); Ware Field prairie planting, the Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; ebony jewelwing damselflies  (Calopteryx maculata), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Halloween pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina); Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; exploring the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; exploring the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.


Cindy’s new book, Chasing Dragonflies: A Natural, Cultural, and Personal History is available for preorder now from your favorite indie bookstore, The Morton Arboretum Store, or online  (with original art from Peggy Macnamara, Field Museum artist in residence).  Publication is June 2020 from Northwestern University Press.

Join Cindy for a Class or Talk in March

The Tallgrass Prairie: A ConversationMarch 12  Thursday, 10am-12noon, Leafing Through the Pages Book Club, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. Open to the public; however, all regular Arboretum admission fees apply.  Books available at The Arboretum Store.

Dragonfly Workshop, March 14  Saturday, 9-11:30 a.m.  Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. Free and open to new and experienced dragonfly monitors, prairie stewards, and the public, but you must register as space is limited. Contact phrelanzer@gmail.com for more information.  Details will be sent with registration. UPDATE: THIS WORKSHOP IS POSTPONED. Watch for new date soon!

Tallgrass Prairie Ecology Online begins March 26 through the Morton Arboretum.  Details and registration here.

See more at http://www.cindycrosby.com 

9 responses to “Waiting for Prairie Dragonflies

  1. So inspiring, but a little upsetting–now I can’t wait to see the dflies this year! After taking your course last year, my plan is to monitor in 2021–still too many other duties taking up all of my time, but I hope this convinces some people to give it a try. Odonates are truly rewarding to observe in nature.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad we share that sense of anticipation, Steve! I’m very excited you are going to monitor in 2021. It’s never too early to begin planning. Dragonflies and damselflies are endlessly fascinating, I agree! Happy dragonfly chasing! — Cindy 🙂


  2. So wonderful to see pics of dragonflies again, looking forward to seeing them in real life! Saw a gorgeous pink one in Costa Rica… and a giant damselfly that I couldn’t get a picture not-so cool!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love following your Costa Rica adventures, Karen! For those who haven’t seen your blog, they can find it at Karen’s Nature Art–https://www.karensnatureart.com/. Check it out, folks! Thanks for reading, sharing, and taking time to leave a note. Dragonfly season will be here before we know it!– Cindy 🙂


  3. Great post, and my new word is teneral. Thanks for these moments of joy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You have introduced me to so many new vocabulary words about the natural world, Eileen — I’m glad I have a chance to throw one your way! Thank you, as always, for reading, and for the good work you do for the natural world. — Cindy 🙂


  4. Just lovely. My long-time friend, Molly just sent me this Thule Inuit song. It seems a right response to this post.

    Magic Song for Him Who Wishes to Live
    Day arises
    From its sleep,
    Day wakes up
    With the dawning light.
    Also you must arise,
    Also you must awake
    Together with the day which comes.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Martha Hellander

    Reading this on March 21…thanks for your postings! I look forward to your upcoming book as I know little about these creatures except as magical beings that I see rarely…am hoping to add a water feature this year. As my suburban Wilmette, IL, garden/sanctuary begins to awaken, the emerging Virginia bluebells I saved from bulldozers working “teardowns” over the years are visible from my chair in the dining room, my 15+ milk jugs of winter-sown native seeds chill under the covered patio table, and birds take huge helpings of milkweed seed/fluff for their nests from the stand in my backyard (one flies off with a huge beak-full, and another swoops in and catches the spillage in mid-air, reminding me of those infamous toilet-paper-hoarders one reads about). Out my front window is my bird feeder, in a stand of northern sea-oats waving in the wind. I offer peanuts and avocado peels for the jays and squirrels, seeds for the birds, and receive nonstop entertainment for me and the pets, each of whom has their own front-row-seat.
    And thanks for the Terry Tempest Williams quote, which sent me re-reading and catching up on her newest work…have followed and loved her writing for many years.


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