Giff Beaton got the bug for fishing and birding when he was growing up in Baltimore, and that, he says, led naturally to his love for a real bug - the elegant, mysterious dragonfly.

Dragonflies belong to an order of insects called Odonata, which makes Beaton an odonatist, though being a dragonfly enthusiast doesn't pay too well. So he puts food on his table in Marietta, Ga., by working as a commercial pilot for Delta Air Lines and, in his spare time, he lectures and writes books about birds and dragonflies.

On many fronts, dragonflies fascinate. They have two pairs of long, lacy wings that move independently of one another and sometimes come with exquisite designer spots. Their bodies can be splashed with blue or green, black or yellow, and they have large eyes that meet on top of their heads.

Each eye has about 30,000 facets, and with two big ones the dragonfly looks like a bug-dude wearing a motorcycle helmet.

Dragonflies can see about 130 feet. They can discern whether another insect is the same species, whether it's male or female, and whether they want to eat, fight or breed with it. Those are important distinctions.

And what names! You'll find petaltails and cruisers, emeralds and king skimmers, and they're all good guys in a garden. They can eat 300 mosquitoes a day, as well as deer flies and black flies and "all the other stuff that bites us that we don't like," says Beaton, author of

Dragonflies and Damselflies of Georgia and the Southeast

, published last year by the University of Georgia Press.

Damselflies are Odonata, too, with smaller bodies and eyes "perched out like little hammerhead sharks," Beaton says.

To attract dragonflies to your garden, he suggests putting in a pond, especially one with a pump to circulate and oxygenate the water and native plants for food and shelter.

"The more natural you make it, the more attractive it would be to dragonflies," he says.

Then watch the shimmering show.

Your dragonflies will fly and hunt with powerful agility. They'll lay their eggs right in front of you. And when their offspring, or nymphs, who have been living underwater for a year or more, finally crawl up the stems of your water plants and emerge as adults, you'll have a front-row seat.

This last stage of life lasts only six to eight weeks, but, Beaton says, "their entire job in life is to reproduce."

Could be worse.

- Virginia A. Smith

Dragonfly Details

For more information about dragonflies, go to enthusiast/author Giff Beaton's Web site,

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New Jersey Audubon's Nature Center of Cape May will offer tours of backyard wildlife gardens in Cape May County Sept. 12, 13 and 14. Registration is required; bring lunch and a folding chair. Tours are led by naturalist Pat Sutton, last from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and cost $35 per day, $25 for New Jersey Audubon Society members. The weekend tour package is $60 for members, $90 for nonmembers. Information: 609-898-8848 or