On a languid summer day, a fat brown and black dragonfly cruises the horsetails at the edge of a shallow pond. It's a four-spotted skimmer, the Alaska state insect, one of about 30 species of dragonflies found in Alaska. This skimmer is patrolling his territory, but he's not hunting for food, he's looking for a mate.
Dragonflies live just a month or two as the maneuverable aerial hunters we see, mating in flight and laying eggs in water. Dragonflies spend most of their lives underwater as major predators of aquatic insects. With a lightning strike of their powerful jaws, dragonfly larvae can even take small fish. Depending on the species, dragonflies may spend a few weeks, or as much as five years, as aquatic larvae, before they climb out of the water onto a small twig and metamorphose into adults.
Biologists Bob Armstrong and John Hudson have documented the dragonflies of Alaska and created an identification guide. These insects range from small damselflies - like the tiny green sedge sprite, up to the five inch long lake darner, the largest dragonfly in state. Azure darners cruise the shores of Prudhoe Bay in the Arctic, black meadowhawks skim the marshy shores of the Interior, and delicate emeralds feast on mosquitoes in the southeast Rainforest.