Paddle and wing

Latest tiger-cub news: Joining the zoo’s tiny tiger cub is an even tinier cub, born July 1 at the St. Louis Zoo. Neither cub had a maternally inclined mother; now both can be seen on Tiger Cub Cam, sometimes together. Neither has an official name yet, but my Day Captain Extraordinaire, Rae Nan, has taken to calling “our” two-weeks-older cub “Dragonfly” because of the double-wing stripe formation on the back of her neck. I couldn’t even picture a dragonfly when she first mentioned this name, but then I went river kayaking and saw some in person.

It was two weekends ago — a two-hour float down the St. Croix River from Interstate Park near Taylor Falls, Minn., to Osceola, Wis. It was 90 degrees, and as soon as I started kicking water up onto my kayak to create a cooler resting spot for my outstretched legs, dragonflies started perching there, too. When I pulled over to rest for a minute in shoreline shade, this friendly fellow sat on my knee for a good two minutes until I pushed off and started paddling again. It never occurred to me to wonder if he’d bite me, but at least one good website (I like this one, eduwebs) confirms that dragonflies don’t bite people; they just devour mosquitoes. Tellingly, I didn’t come home with a single bug-bite of any kind.

I’d hoped to see wildlife on this adventure — and we did spot a pair of eagles soaring into the treetops — but I wasn’t paying attention to dragonflies until a kayaking companion mentioned a colleague’s recent tweet about them. The tweet marveled that dragonflies can live for several years, spending all but their final few weeks underwater as nymphs. Another fine website,, marvels at this tropical insect’s ability to thrive in the Upper Midwest. There are at least three major varieties of dragonfly: darners, skimmers and clubtails. Eduwebs says California has 60 species of dragonfly. I’m pretty sure the dragonflies I photographed were blue darners.

Part of the zoo’s mission is to remind visitors that there’s a vast blue-green world beyond cities and small towns, full of overlooked creatures, and to give us all a gentle prod outward into that world. Once we’re physically immersed in nature, we’re more likely to think, “Maybe we shouldn’t put condos on this, after all” or “We need to make sure this kind of animal never dies out.” Worked on me.