Emeralds of the Ozarks

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Published on: Jun. 17, 2014

Here be dragons.

Winging silently over murmuring Ozark streams; fluttering above open pastures and meadows on midsummer dawns, their wings glittering in the eastern light; found tucked away in some forgotten forested cove, a cl spring seep found there to call home; or skimming just above the treetops looking to feed on a warm still evening.

“Here be dragons” the map would read. In the country around Marct, Bixby, Salem, Eminence; around the slopes of the St. Francois Mountains; to the lower reaches of the Current River; for many of them the eastern Ozarks is home.

Dragons, indeed. Patrolling, feeding, they often live short, violent, wing-tattered flight seasons defending territories, searching for mates, laying eggs, and succumbing to their place in the food chain.

Dragons, yes, but not the fire-breathing sort that have a predilection for piles of men’s treasures and pretty maidens. The Emeralds of the Ozarks are a group of dragons with compound eyes — extraordinary sensors with more than 30,000 individual lenses, allowing them to be adept hunters of aerial insects. They are equipped with phenomenal visual senses that are sensitive to some parts of the spectrum that man cannot discern.

So these dragons, these Emeralds of the Ozarks, are a group of dragonflies belonging to the genus Somatochlora.

Known fondly as the Emeralds, they are named for their brilliant, emerald green eyes. Six Somatochlora species have been documented in Missouri. We will introduce you to four of them: Hine’s emerald dragonfly (Somatochlora hineana), Ozark emerald (Somatochlora ozarkensis), mocha emerald (Somatochlora linearis), and clamp-tipped emerald (Somatochlora tenebrosa). The other two species, fine-lined emerald (Somatochlora filosa) and treetop emerald (Somatochlora provocans), are seldom observed in Missouri.

Hine’s emerald dragonfly is one of Missouri’s rarest dragonflies. It is listed as endangered both at the federal and state levels. Hine’s emerald dragonfly is so imperiled because it occupies Ozark fens, a specific wetland type that is itself rare in Missouri. This dragonfly belongs to the Corduliidae family, which contains 384 species, 39 of which are Somatochlorans; 26 occur in the United States.

Hine’s emerald dragonfly has brilliant green eyes, dark metallic green coloration to the thorax, and an overall imposing matte black body, and two distinct yellow “tiger stripes.” Adults of the species are nearly 3 inches in body length and have a wingspan approaching 4 inches.

All the emeralds are aquatic insects that spend the majority of their lives developing in wetland habitats as an aquatic nymph or larvae.

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