CO-Horts Blog

Monday, July 24, 2017

Beneficial Buddies in the Backyard

Posted by Mary Small, CSU Extension Colorado Master Gardener Coordinator
I regularly scout in my backyard. No, I’m not building a campfire or setting up a tent. Rather, I look around to see what’s going on out there in terms of pests, plants and plant growth.

My most recent “find’ was this beautiful dragonfly – a female Widow Skimmer. She was just hanging out  on a spent daylily stalk. Widow Skimmers are so named because after they mate, the male takes off, leaving her to lay the eggs by herself. Usually dragonfly males stick around and “guard” the eggs for a while.

Widow Skimmer Dragonfly

Like all insects, dragonflies have 6 legs – but they can’t walk! The dark wing mark toward the outer tip of the wings acts like a weight to help stabilize the insect while flying. It dampens the wing vibration. The costa, the outermost “leading edge” of the wing is a vein that helps the insect “slice” through the air while in flight.

The term “eating on the fly” or “eating on the run” may have developed around dragonfly feeding habits. They capture their insect prey while in flight and consume it while in flight. They eat a variety of insects including mosquitos, gnats, flies, bees and even other dragonflies.

Halictid bee
This shiny metallic green insect is a Halictid bee. These insects are not only attractive, but also important pollinators. Just look at the huge pollen basket on her legs! The females typically dig burrows with individual cells in them. The burrows are usually made in bare soil in a sunny location. They lay an egg in each cell of the burrow and provide nourishment in the form of pollen balls and nectar for the larva to eat when it emerges. The adults provide pollination services for a wide variety of flowers. I caught this one on a New Mexico evening primrose (Oenothera neomexicana).

Posing praying mantid
Here’s a recognizable insect – the praying mantid. I love how it looks like it's smiling! Maybe it just ate or is eagerly anticipating it's next meal! I can’t tell you which one this was, since I was more focused on photographing its “face” than identifying it. It was "resting" on a flower stalk and blended in  so well with the surroundings that I almost didn't see it. (That’s to their advantage in their feeding behavior).

Many believe mantids are voracious predators of “bad” insects – but that’s simply not true. While they might eat some “bad guys”, they just as easily might not. They prefer faster moving insects to slower aphids and caterpillars – and those insects that are within their reach. Mantids will ambush or even slowly stalk their prey. They grab the prey with their front, spiny legs so quickly that it’s difficult for humans to observe! I may have caught this one waiting for dinner to come along, but it sure was posing nicely in the meantime.


  1. Your post reminds us to do the same. Golden stars for you that you not only had the presence of mind to have your camera with you but also to use it with fabulous results. Mostly I'm so amazed to see whatever that I ... forget my presence of mind.
    GO CO Horts!

  2. Your blog is very nice. It has a very pretty theme and makes audience want to stay a while longer. I liked your finding as well. Hope you find more of these!

  3. Interesting information and education once ! thank for good post and sharing......


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