“One dragonfly—even the most silent of ponds comes alive.”—Scott King
They’re here. All around us. In the prairie wetlands. Scattered in the tallgrass ponds.
Dragonflies, that is. When the sun shines on cold days. While the ice is deep on the prairie ponds.
“What?” you might say. “Cindy, there aren’t any dragonflies flying through the snow.” Truth. And yet…under the water’s surface, rumbling across the substrate of silty river bottoms, dragonfly nymphs are going about their business. They look a bit different in their larval stage, don’t they?
These tiny nymphs eat. Grow. Molt. Eat some more. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Until that magical day when nature tells each species GO!
They emerge, exchanging a life in the water for a short life in the air.
Their lives will flare into color, channeling sunlight. And then, all too soon, their time is up. It might end with the snap of a bird bill. The splash of a fish, as it snatches the dragonfly in motion. Or a bullfrog, tonguing the dragonfly out of its flightpath.
Now you see it.
Now you don’t.
Or, if a dragonfly is lucky, it will live a few weeks before dying its natural death.
A life so short! Shouldn’t we admire them while we can?
And then, there are the migratory dragonflies. Big, bright, and ready to return to the Midwest this spring.
Not all dragonflies migrate. But the ones that do—common green darners, wandering gliders, black saddlebags, and other migratory species—left in the autumn en masse, bound for warmer climes. The Gulf of Mexico, perhaps, or even Central America. And now, their progeny return singly. We’ll see them as early as March in Illinois, ready to complete the remarkable cycle.
The wandering glider, found on every continent but Antarctica, is known to travel more than 8,000 miles!
Dragonflies don’t have the excellent press agents that monarch butterflies do, so it’s up to citizen scientists, researchers, and organizations such as The Xerces Society to collect data and learn more about these far-ranging insects.
For most of us, it’s enough to know dragonflies will soon be back in the Midwest to brighten our gardens and enliven our world. Returning migrants and also, the nymphs living in the water here, will appear. They’ll zip around stoplights, catch bugs at ballparks, and pose on wildflowers.
Though snow still flies in the Chicago region, my dragonfly “EDS”—early detection system—is on high alert. What species will I see first? When will I spot it? Where?
From that moment on, my days will see constant attention on the skies and wetlands. I can’t wait.
Let the dragonfly chasing season begin!
The opening quote is from Scott King (1965-2021) in his book with Ken Tennessen and Kobayashi Issa, Dragonfly Haiku (Red Dragonfly Press, 2016). King, an engineer who grew up in northern Minnesota, was also a naturalist who wrote several books about insects. He was the founder of Red Dragonfly Press, which relied on vintage typesetting and printing equipment, and he hand-bound the poetry chapbooks he published with needle and thread. In a tribute to Scott in the Minnesota Star Tribune, he was lauded by one friend as “that rare combination of technical genius and poetic soul.” Said another friend, “He was constantly drawing your attention to what is around you that you might not be seeing or noticing.”
Requiem for Bell Bowl Prairie
On March 9, 2023, despite public opposition, one of Illinois last prairie remnants was bulldozed by the Chicago-Rockford International Airport. Once a prairie remnant is lost, we are unable to replicate it. Let this travesty be a wake-up call for all of us who love and care for tallgrass prairies anywhere. Wherever you hike, volunteer, or see a prairie, ask yourself—is this prairie legally protected? If not, advocate for its protection now. Let this be the last prairie remnant we lose in what we’re so proud to call “The Prairie State.”
Join Cindy for a Class or Program in March
Illinois’ Wild and Wonderful Early Bloomers ONLINE — March 15, 7-8:30 p.m., Hosted by Bensonville Public Library. Free and open to the public, but you must register for the link by calling the library. Contact information here.
Illinois’ Wild and Wonderful Early Bloomers ONLINE –March 16, 7-8:30 p.m., Hosted by the Rock Valley Wild Ones. This event was formerly a blended program and is now online only. Open to the public; but you must register. Contact information is here.
Literary Gardens — In Person —– Saturday, March 18, 9am-12:30 pm. Keynote for “Ready, Set, Grow!” Master Gardeners of Carroll, Lee, Ogle, and Whiteside Counties through The Illinois Extension. Dixon, IL. Registration ($25) is offered here.
The Morton Arboretum’s “Women in the Environment Series”: The Legacy of May T. Watts— (in person and online)—with lead instructor and Sterling Morton Librarian extraordinaire Rita Hassert. March 24, 10-11:30 a.m., Founders Room, Thornhill. Registration information available here.
Literary Gardens–In Person — Wednesday, March 29, 7-8:30 p.m. La Grange Park Public Library, LaGrange, IL. (free but limited to 25 people). For more information, contact the library here.
See Cindy’s website for more spring programs and classes.