Dragonflies for Mosquito Control

***Update…with the threat of the Zika virus looming any natural method for keeping the mosquito population in check should be considered as a first choice.  Consider attracting dragonflies and damselflies to your yard and garden.  Additionally, enhance the habitat for small birds and consider fish ponds.  Make sure gutters are clean and the yard is picked up so that no water is collected for mosquito breeding.  Mosquito borne illnesses are serious business and the Zika virus is just the newest illness on the block.***

A decade ago I started a dragonfly pond behind the home we now call La Casita. My inspiration for building a dragonfly pond came from an observation I made one day while working to clear my lot.  I happened on a swarm of termites flying up from a rotting log. I was marveling at the swarm of termites flying up and out of the ground when all of the

dragonfly

Common Green Darner

sudden right in front of my face flew a dragonfly.  I stood motionless and watched as large common green darners flew back and forth mere inches from my face snatching the swarming termites and gobbling them up in mid-flight.  It was as if the eagles had arrived to battle the forces of darkness in Lord of the Rings. At that moment I became a friend of dragonflies.

Why not be friendly to a beautiful creature that eats all sorts of malevolent airborne pestilence…what’s not to like? Here are some quick dragonfly facts collected from the internet in various locations.  Dragonflies….

  • Are among the first winged insects known to have existed.  Some fossilized remains have been found of dragonflies with two foot wing spans! (how big were the mosquitoes?)
  • Belong to the order Odonata which means “toothed one” in Greek because dragonflies have serrated teeth.
  • Eat almost anything in their during their larvae stage when they live in water…mosquito larvae, other insects, fish, tadpoles and they are even cannibals.
  • Are amazing fliers…they do everything on wing except rest.  As when I observed the Green Darners they eat mid-flight.  While flying a dragonfly catches its prey with its feet and then eats the prey mid-flight. Dragonflies only eat while flying. If a dragonfly can’t fly it will starve.
  •   A dragonflies head is almost all eye.  With their amazing vision they can see almost everywhere except right behind them.
  • (A.K.A. mosquito hawks) are serious mosquito eater…one dragonfly can eat up to hundreds of mosquitoes per day!

Are you interested in witnessing the effectiveness of dragonflies?  Try this.  Find a lawn chair.  Find an area where dragonflies can be seen darting about next to a pond, in a park…where ever.  Don’t put on any mosquito repellent (be advised that mosquitoes do carry diseases but you’re a risk taker…right?).  Now, take your lawn chair and find a nice sunny spot and sit perfectly still.  Wait.  I bet that in a bit you’ll notice a dragonfly or two that keeps flying around you.  Guess what?  You have your own personal natural mosquito defense system coming to your rescue.  As the dragonfly flits back and forth it is eating mosquitoes and gnats that are attracted to you.  There is no better mosquito repellent.  However, some of us are more susceptible to mosquitoes.  I just recently had one guest who was eaten up with mosquitoes but no one else in the family was.  Hmmm…I found this interesting article on WebMD, “Are You a Mosquito Magnet?”, which indicates that about 10% of the population is very very attractive to mosquitoes. If you are a “mosquito magnet” and you are visiting La Casita please bring the bug spray that you like to use.  But just think how much worse it could be without the dragonflies!

I use dragonflies and their smaller cousins, damselflies, as a pretty effective natural biological mosquito control.  The focal point for this mosquito and gnat defense is Dragonfly Pond which is about 50 yards from La Casita in the pasture.  At La Casita except on the coldest days of winter on a bright sunny warm day you’ll see dragonflies.  In the summer you’ll see squadrons of my friends flitting back and forth through the yard and gardens.  The result? Even in the evenings on the back porch at La Casita it is rare to see many mosquitoes.  But as mentioned in the previous paragraph if you are a “mosiquito magnet” then I guess mosquitoes will run through any defenses to get to you.  Sorry.

Are you interested in having your own squadrons of dragonflies and or damselflies protecting your back yard?  If your answer is yes there are two options you can explore. You can build a dragonfly pond or even scale down and make a damselfly habitat. First, let’s explore building a dragonfly pond.  Step one is determining the dimensions of the pond you want to build. The ideal dragonfly pond is at least 20′ (~6 meters) in diameter and at least 2′ (~.75 meters) deep and has sloping sides. Visit this “How to Build a Dragonfly Pond” article for additional instructions.

To construct my dragonfly pond I used my two wheel drive Farmtrac 60 tractor, a plow, my front end loader and a pond scoop.  You tractor driving types will know what kind of equipment I’m talking about.  If you aren’t a farmer or don’t have access to heavy equipment you may

need to scale back the size of your pond but don’t worry, there are other options available to you. If you don’t have room or equipment to build a dragonfly pond why not build a barrel pond to attract dragonflies, damselflies and other creatures. 

farmtrac1

Dragonfly Pond after construction.

Anyway, during the droughts we had in North Carolina a few years ago I first plowed the sunny low area where I wanted to dig my pond. Then I followed that step and dug out the loosened soil with my front end loader and pond scoop.  I kept repeating these steps until I had created a pond that is about 20′ (~6 meters) x 30′ (~9 meters) and 4′ (~1.2 meters) deep.  I have clay subsoil so I simply kept driving my tractor through the dry pond to create a natural pond liner.  Since completion the pond has never completely dried up.  My homes all drain into the pond so each rainfall helps keep the water level sustained. Bull rushes and other aquatic plants naturally began to grow on the banks of the pond.  Mosquito fish were introduced during a flood.  To jump start the pond I put some pond water and mud in the pond (contains bacteria, larvae and eggs of pond life). Frogs found and love the pond as does Mango the snapping turtle (the turtle loves mango peels) and innumerable crayfish.  The pond may not look like much but it is teeming with life.  In the spring and summer the frogs singing is amazing!

There are numerous methods for digging ponds and techniques for lining the pond so that it holds water.  What ever method you use remember for a dragonfly pond you want to site it in a sunny area, it should have sloping sides and it should be at least two feet deep. I recommend you consider diverting the water from the roof of your home to the pond. This way you’ll not only be keeping your pond full but you’ll be helping to control suburban water run off which is a contributor to the pollution of our waterways.  Your dragonfly pond could sit adjacent to a wetland bog/rain garden that is flooded during periods of heavy rainfall. The picture titled “How does a rain garden work” is from The Tipp of the Mitt Watershed website Rain Gardens page.

chickens at dragonfly pond

Our flock of chickens at Dragonfly pond

A dragonfly pond is more than just a bare pond…it is a habitat.  To optimize the environment for dragonflies you need vertical plants or poles for dragonflies to roost, different colored stones or logs for dragonflies (they are cold blooded creatures) to sit and warm themselves and nearby bushes/grasses for insect habitat.  Ideally your little pond will, like mine, become a magnet for wildlife that will attract the flying jewels we call dragonflies and damselflies.  Attracting dragonflies for mosquito control may not be 100% effective but believe me dragonflies make a big difference in how much you will enjoy your yard.  So, make a dragonfly habitat, keep some mosquito repellent around for the 10% of people who are mosquito magnets and enjoy watching your new friends as the fly through air eating hundreds of insects which would like to be eating you! Please remember that dragonflies are only one aspect of controlling mosquitoes.  Another key part of your anti-mosquito regime is to keep you yard and garden sanitary. Don’t forget to make sure gutters don’t hold any standing water, that you keep the bird bath water changed and that you make sure there are no other places which hold standing water in which mosquitoes can breed.  Dragonflies, damselfies and eliminating standing water are just the tip of the iceberg for mosquito control.  I recommend reading this Mother Earth News article, “How to Keep Mosquitoes Away” by Barbara Pleasant, to learn about a broad array of things that can be done to mitigate the dangers of mosquitoes. Here at La Casita and Redbay Farm we have instituted many of the ideas mentioned in the article.

I wish you the best of luck with your project and hope that in the near future you can sit on your own back porch and watch the acrobatics of dragonflies as they make your yard and garden a more enjoyable place to be.

References:

McGuigan, Tony – Ribbit’s Time of Year

Miller, Elizabeth – Mosquitoes Have Natural Enemies: Some Predators work Better than Others for Mosquito Control

Pleasant, Babara – Mother Earth News, How to Keep Mosqitoes Away

Orkin article – Mosquito Predators

Smithsonian.com – 14 Fun Facts about Dragonflies

Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council – Rain Gardens

WebMD – Are You a Mosquito Magnet?

Wikihow.com – How to Attract Dragonflies

 

 

 

 

 

 

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