Early Life in the Water: Dragonflies, Mosquitos and Other Flying Insects

Many flying insects, like dragonflies and mosquitos, spend the first part of their lives in the water before turning into flying adults.

Did You Know…Some Flying Insects Start Their Lives in Water?

Many of the insects that live in our streams, lakes, ponds and wetlands are actually the immature stages of flying insects like dragonflies, damselflies, mayflies, midges and of course, mosquitos. These insects spend the first part of their life cycle in the water before becoming flying adults.

A dragonfly spends the first part of its life cycle as a nymph in the water before transforming into a flying adult. Source: How it Works Daily, The Life Cycle of a Dragonfly

The length of time this aquatic stage lasts is dependent on the insect. Some dragonflies take 4-5 years to complete this part of their life cycle, while others may only be a few months. The adults usually live for weeks to months, but some dragonfly species like the Green Darner migrate south in late September. Other insects like midges have a much shorter life cycle that is completed in a matter of weeks, culminating in a swarm of adults that may only live for a few days just long enough to mate and lay eggs for the next generation.

…These Insects Can Indicate Water Quality?

What lives in our local rivers, streams, ponds and wetlands can indicate the water quality of these bodies of water. For example, finding insects that are sensitive to pollutants, such as stonefly and dobsonfly larvae, can indicate high water quality. Generally, a diversity of life in and around a stream means that a stream has clean water and a variety of habitat.

Stonefly larvae are sensitive to pollution as well as changes in dissolved oxygen and water temperature. Finding them can indicate that a waterway has high water quality. Source: Seabrooke Leckie, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

…Chemical Treatments for Mosquitos Can Kill Beneficial Life Too?

While we like to see a variety of organisms in and around the water, most people would prefer a world without mosquitos. Mosquitos are another kind of insect that depends on a source of water for their early stages. Like many insects, mosquito eggs can overwinter in areas that are prone to get wet the next spring, like around the edges of a pond or in the vegetation along a stream.

Where they lay their eggs depends on the species. For example, the species that carries West Nile Virus tends to lay their eggs in stagnant water found in old pot bottoms, tires or other containers. Other species prefer wetlands or streams. Mosquito eggs can dry out and last in a dormant stage for weeks or years waiting for the right conditions to hatch.

Unfortunately, mosquitos share many of the same habitats that other insects (in the water or in the air), amphibians and fish use, so spraying or treating for mosquitos with chemicals harms these creatures too. Mosquitos are everywhere, and spraying everywhere is not the answer. Below are some simple steps you can follow to protect yourself from biting mosquitos:

  • Remove shallow, stagnant sources of water near your home. Check around your property for containers, such as empty pots, old tires and forgotten cups. These are attractive places for mosquitos to lay their eggs.
  • When outside during dawn and dusk, wear long sleeves and pants.
  • Opt for light-colored clothing. Mosquitos have poor eyesight and can see dark colors easier than light colors.
  • Try a natural bug spray. Essential oils, such as lemon eucalyptus, lavender and citronella, have been shown to repel mosquitos. However, you may need to apply natural sprays more often than repellents that contain Deet.

Spraying ponds and wetlands for mosquitos indiscriminately kills mosquitos and beneficial aquatic life that we rely on for healthy ecosystems. These steps can protect you and the environment around you.

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