Dragonflies: Friends of the Whitefish Chain

The green darner dragonfly is one of the larger and more common dragonflies found in Minnesota. Photo by Kate Perkins

They're agile, they're beautiful, and they take care of some of those pesky mosquitoes: Dragonflies are our friends. With the abundance of water on the Whitefish Chain of Lakes and the surrounding area, there are plenty of dragonflies and damselflies that take to the sky all summer long.

Some of the most common dragonflies in Minnesota are the "darners," so named because they look like darning needles. The green darner, blue darner and zigzag darner are all common in Minnesota. According to the MN Department of Natural Resources, the lake darner is one of the largest species in the state at more than three inches long.

Damselflies are the close cousin of the dragonfly, belonging to the same scientific family. You can tell the two apart in several ways. For one, damselflies often rest with their wings together, while dragonflies usually rest with their wings apart (except when they are emerging from their nymph forms). Dragonflies also usually have much larger eyes and thicker bodies, while damselflies are smaller and, as their name suggests, much more dainty.

While we know dragonflies and damselflies for their winged form, some varieties can spend most of their lives under water. The DNR says that dragonflies can spend anywhere from two months to five years in their nymph form under water before they morph into their adult form. They live in their adult forms just 4-6 months.

Both as nymph and as adults, dragonflies are hunters. Underwater, dragonfly nymphs hunt for minnows and other aquatic bugs. Once they reach maturity, they crawl out of the water, often onto a plant, rock or dock, and emerge. They pump up their wings, allow them to dry and fly away.

A dragonfly, having just emerged from its nymph exoskeleton, allows its wings to dry before it can take to the sky. Photo by Kate Perkins

Go down to the water's edge and check the sides of a dock, whether it's at your resort, cabin or a public access. Chances are you'll find the exoskeleton of a dragonfly- the hollow shell of its nymph form- which the dragonfly has left behind as it flew away. You may even find a dragonfly in the process of emerging. And if you see a swarm of dragonflies darting through the air, thank them! They're probably eating those annoying mosquitoes.

There are several great places to observe and enjoy dragonflies around the Whitefish Chain. You'll find them just about anywhere that there's water, especially near areas of shallower water and wetlands. Look for them on docks, as we've mentioned before, or on the banks of areas with a lot of wetland vegetation. The boardwalk at the Veteran's Walking Trail is also a popular spot for dragonflies, which at some times of the year will be dotted with dragonflies. The Pine River, which feeds the Whitefish Chain and comes out of the dam in Crosslake, is also a popular area for dragonflies. Explore the Pine River either on kayak or by tube and keep an eye out.

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