A common question we hear from new pond owners is how to get dragonflies at their pond. It's really quite simple, all you need to do is create the right conditions for them and they will find the pond on their own.
The simplest advice is to just mimic their natural habitat: Water, Plants, Rocks.
A healthy body of water is paramount. For the smaller species like damselflies, even the tiniest ponds will suffice. For larger species, you will want a medium-large sized pond with a diameter of 15' or greater. The larger the pond you have, the greater diversity of dragonfly species you might attract. A maximum depth of 2' or greater is preferred, this will provide the nymphs better refuge from predators and it will be more likely the adult dragonflies will choose that pond in which to lay their eggs.
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Once your pond is created, it will be time to introduce some plants. Dragonflies spend the majority of their lives as aquatic nymphs living at the bottom of ponds and streams, so they like to lay their eggs on the stems and leaves of pond plants, beyond the reach of hungry fish and frogs. A variety of plants native to your area is ideal; common plants such as sedge, iris, sweet flag, and thalia are excellent choices. These plants will also provide a safe place underwater where the nymphs can hunt and hide from predators.
Last, but not least, is to include some rocks in and around your pond. Dragonflies are cold-blooded; they like to bask on warm rocks in the sun, just like a lizard or turtle. Rocks also serve a dual purpose, along with aquatic plants, by providing the nymphs a place to climb out of the water and cling in place while they molt into their winged adult form. You might be familiar with the sight of those empty exoskeletons clinging vertically to the rocks in a pond; those are from dragonfly larvae!
These conditions for a good dragonfly pond are easily met, and were likely already established during the creation of your pond. If your pond has met these conditions but you are not seeing dragonflies, there are a few other things to consider:
How far are you from any established bodies of fresh water?
Dragonflies are superb fliers, and have been recorded flying up to 100 miles in a single day, but they typically don't travel much further than 5-10 miles from their origin pond. Here in South Jersey we have many lakes and ponds, so the odds are very good that your pond will be close enough to other dragonfly habitats for them to quickly discover it. Every pond we've done in the Camden/Burlington/Gloucester/Atlantic area of NJ gets dragonflies; sometimes they even show up before we're finished!
Is your pond at least partially exposed to the sun?
Dragonflies have exceptional vision, and when cruising the local skies at altitudes between 15'-300' they need to be able to see your pond before they will zoom in for a closer inspection and decide if it's a good place to support their next generation of offspring. A pond that is entirely in the shade will be more difficult for dragonflies to find. If that is the case with your pond, you can create a visual portal with the use of an extension-pole lopper to trim some branches that are obscuring the view.
Does your pond have a high density of fish?
This issue goes both ways. While larger fish may eat the dragonfly nymphs, the nymphs will in turn prey on baby fish fry. If you have a high density of fish, they may be competing for food and can be more likely to gobble up the dragonfly larvae. A pond with a healthy proportion of fish relative to its size should be sufficient to support both your established fish population and the aquatic dragonfly nymphs.
Dragonfly nymphs need something bridging the water and the sky on which to climb out of the pond and cling to while they shed their larval exoskeleton and emerge as the magnificent winged adults we know and love. In this photo, you can see the shells of both a dragonfly and the smaller damselflies where they clung to a little fish net that was sitting in our aquatic plant pool. These nymphs were living in the soil of our potted plants, and hitched along when the plants were moved to a new pool with fresh water.
Fun Facts about Dragonflies
Dragonfly spend the majority of their life-cycle in the larval stage as aquatic nymphs. They usually live like this for between 4-24 months. During this time they will feed on pests like mosquito larvae, but also on tadpoles and fish fry. A well-balanced pond has room for everyone, and you will get the benefit of enjoying greater biodiversity among your water garden.
Dragonflies are the best aerial acrobats in the animal kingdom. They can move each of their wings independently, and can fly in all directions, even upside-down. Engineers are currently studying their flight to create better flying machines.
One species of dragonfly holds the record for longest migration of any insect. It is the Globe Skinner, and has been recorded flying over 10,000 miles in it's round-trip from India to Africa and back. It reaches heights of over 3000' and rides the thermal air currents much like a migratory bird.
To learn more about dragonflies, the following documentary by National Geographic is highly recommended:
The Secret World of Dragonflies
To see stunning, hi-resolution, close-up footage of dragonflies, this BBC documentary can't be beat: Sky Hunters: The World of the Dragonfly
Landvista Aquascapes provides Pond & Water Feature Design, Installation & Maintenance -Repair services for South New Jersey Homeowners