Dragonfly was among the first insects to appear on the earth, about 300 million years ago. They’ve had what it takes to be perfect hunters and fliers that can live unusually long (for an insect). Dragonflies are the fastest flying insects in the world. Here are some dragonfly facts that could change your mind about these invertebrate animals.
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1. Dragonflies are fearsome hunters
Dragonflies are carnivores. When in larval phase, dragonflies are already fearsome hunters. Dragonfly larvae (or nymphs) live in the water and feed on anything that can fit their mouth. Their preys are usually small fish, tadpoles, and aquatic insects.
As growing up, they are even aggressive eaters. Flies, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, flying ants, mosquitoes, and even other dragonflies can be their food. Their strong jaws with sharp teeth are very useful for catching and consuming prey.
Dragonflies do not just pursue their victim; they attack them with precise aerial ambushes. Not only do dragonflies calculate the speed of their prey, but they also estimate the places where their prey is coming and the distance to go there. And all of these just happen in 0.001 milliseconds in their mind.
After that, dragonflies quickly fly to the place where the prey will be, not where it is right now. And just like that, they catch the target prey in the blink of an eye. After catching the prey, they bite its head to paralyze them. Then they find a place to perch to eat it or eat it while moving. Their extraordinarily powerful jaws allow them to easily eat the prey, usually starting with the head first.
Dragonflies are superior hunters to lions and sharks. When it comes to catching prey, lions only have a 25% success rate, while sharks have a 50% success rate. However, this number in dragonflies is 95% – what an impressive rate!
By eating pest insects, dragonflies are protecting humans, particularly those that pose the most damage like biting flies or mosquitoes. It also protects our health by preventing mosquitoes from transmitting dangerous diseases to us. One dragonfly can consume about 30 – 100 mosquitoes a day.
Despite being excellent hunters, dragonflies are prey to many pond animals, like frogs, spiders, fish, turtles, and even their own kind – bigger dragonflies.
2. Dragonfly identification
An adult dragonfly range in length from 1 to 5 inches (2.5 – 12cm) and is less than 1 ounce (28g). A dragonfly’s head has two antennae (which are too tiny to see), two huge compound eyes, a strong pair of mandibles, and a lower jaw-like structure.
On the thorax, they have three pairs of legs and two pairs of wings which are long (can be up to 6 inches), transparent and patterned. Those wings are as unique as their colors, like the stripes of zebras or the spots of leopards. Female wings are shorter than male wings in most species.
The dragonfly’s wings are joined to the body by a powerful muscle, allowing it to fly great distances at fast speeds. Like many insects, the wings of dragonflies do not fold but remain horizontal to the body, even when they are landing.
Depending on the type, they can have beautiful colors. They come in a variety of colors, including brown, purple, orange, blue, yellow, green, pink, golden, white, and red.
About the legs, although having 6 legs, dragonflies cannot walk.
|Fun facts: Dragonfly means the Devil’s Horse|
How does this insect have the name dragonfly? It begins with Romanian folklore. According to the story, the cursed Saint George’s horse and make it become a large flying insect. The word for devil in Romanian is drac, which also means dragon. It translates as dragonfly in English. And the word for dragonflies in Romanian means Devil’s Horse or Devil’s Fly in English. That’s how dragonfly gets its name!
3. Dragonflies can bite
Dragonflies are classed in the order Odonata, which means “toothed”. However, they don’t have teeth. Instead of that, they have strong mandibles to smash and consume prey.
Dragonflies hunt by catching prey with their feet, tearing off the prey’s wings with strong jaws, and then scarfing the miserable bug down without even landing.
Fortunately, most dragonflies cannot bite people. Mandibles of most dragonfly species are not strong enough to break our skin. Only a few huge species can bite you, and they’ll only bite to defend. Their bite isn’t poisonous for humans, but it hurts!
4. Dragonflies are excellent fliers
In the animal world, there are a few competitors who can compete with dragonflies in their flying ability. In the insect world, they are unstoppable!
– Each wing can work independently
The wings of dragonflies are one of the key reasons they can fly so well. The insects have 2 pairs of wings, each with its own group of muscles in the thorax. This enables them to adjust the angle of each wing and practice higher aerial flexibility. They can beat their wings up and down, as well as rotate them forth and back on an axis.
– They can fly in any direction, like a helicopter
One of the dragonfly outstanding flying abilities is that they can fly like a helicopter. They can fly up and down, backward, and sideways. They can stop and hover in one place for more than a minute. Not only that, they can even do hairpin turns at full speed or in slow motion. This helps dragonflies successfully ambush predators in the air, they can come to their target victims from any direction. You can also see dragonflies free-glide when mating in the air.
– They’re fast
In the flying insect kingdom, dragonflies have no rival. They are the fastest flying insect that can reach up to 30mph (48 kph) which is equivalent to 100 body lengths per second. According to Guinness World Records, the fastest dragonfly on the planet is an Australian dragonfly – the southern giant darner (Austrophlebia costalis). In 1927, it reached the speed at 96 kph, earning itself an eternal reputation.
Dragonflies are also famed for their endurance achievements. The globe skimmer (Pantala flavescens) flies 11,000 miles across the ocean in what is thought to be the world’s longest insect journey.
– Their wings beat about ten times slower than bees’
Although dragonflies are the quickest fliers, they do not get this by flapping their wings faster than other insects. Dragonflies’ wings flap about 30 times every second, which is not so fast when you compare that to other insects’ like bees or mosquitoes. The beating rate of bees’ wings is 200 times per second and the rate of mosquitoes is 800 times per second.
– Their wings can kill bacteria and keep them safe and healthy
A dragonfly wing contains billions of microscopic nano spikes which can be seen under a microscope. These structures are deadly to many bacteria that can cause various infections like Bacillus subtilis or Escherichia coli.
The spike-line structures can pierce the bacterial cell walls, and kill them. Internal damage is also caused by these nanostructures due to the release of free radicals.
Most insects rely heavily on their wings. If an insect’s wing is destroyed, its chances of flying are slim. Wing damage may have a major impact on wild dragonflies, potentially lowering both reproductive success and survival. The wing can’t grow back or heal. However, according to a study, the dragonfly may fly after the damage if the wing has not yet hardened.
5. Dragonflies are all eyes
If you look at a dragonfly’s head, its eyes are the things you will see first. The majority of a dragonfly’s head is made up of its massive compound eyes. Each eye comprises 28,000 lenses which are called ommatidia. A dragonfly requires around 80% of its brain to analyze all visual information it gets.
Their eyes are so large that they encompass the entire head. This allows it to see 360° vision, their only blind area is right behind them. These special eyes enable them to see a wider color spectrum than humans.
This exceptional vision is one of the reasons they can keep an eye on a target prey within a swarm and chase it down while avoiding airborne crashes with other dragonflies in the swarm.
Because of their extraordinary flight abilities and vision, dragonflies motivate humans to develop new technology, like drones or artificial visual systems.
6. Dragonflies can be found everywhere
Except for Antarctica, dragonflies can be found everywhere in the world. The majority of them seem to cluster in one location, although many dragonflies are more widespread.
The globe skimmer dragonfly may be found in the warmer portions of every continent except Antarctica. On the other hand, the emperor anax dragonflies can be found across the Americas, from Argentina’s southernmost tip to Newfoundland in Canada.
7. Dragonflies are older than dinosaurs
The first dinosaur fossils were discovered 240 million years ago. But did you know that dragonfly fossils could be considerably older than that?
Dragonflies flew to the skies long before dinosaurs inhabited the Earth. Griffenflies (Meganisoptera) dominated the skies around 300 million years ago, way before dinosaurs control the Earth. The species are the massive forerunners of modern dragonflies and had wingspans of over two feet.
8. Types of dragonflies
There are around 5,000 different dragonfly species on the globe. In Ontario, over 130 species have been identified. Dragonflies are divided into three super-families, which are subdivided into several families.
This super-family is made up of five dragonfly families, one of which (Aktassiidae) has been extinct.
– Petaluridae is the world’s oldest family, having evolved 150 million years ago. The petaluridae family is known as petal tails because of its long, straight tails. It is made up of five genera (Phenes, Petalura, Tachopteryx, Uropetala, and Tanypteryx) and 11 species. The Australian Petalura ingentissima is the largest of all. Petalura Gigantea, also known as the “giant dragonfly,” is a more common species in Australia.
– Aeshnidae: These dragonflies, also known as hawkers, are widespread in North America. This dragonfly could be the largest dragonfly on earth. Their larvae are not as big as those of other dragonfly species. This family contains the following genera: Acanthaeschna, Anax, Epiaechna, and Caliaeschna…
– Gomphidae: This dragonfly is also known as the Clubtail dragonfly. It is a large family with around 900 species and 90 genus. Unlike other typical members, their bodies are not metallic. It has the following dragonfly genera: Burmagomphus, Acrogomphus, Cornigomphus…
– Austropetaliidae: a small family with only four genera. These dragonflies are brown with transparent wings. Its genera include Archiperalia, Austropetalia, Hypopetalia, and Phyllopetalia.
This super-family consists of three families:
– Cordulegastridae: includes 1 genus and 9 species. These dragonflies are described as sprawlers and burrowers because they burrow deeply into the substrate, exposing only their heads. Besides, these dragonflies prefer to hide in sand or little streams. This small family is made up of only four genera: Neallogaster, Sonjagaster, Anotogaster, and Cordulegaster.
– Neopetalia Punctata: is the lone member of the Neopetaliidae family. They are easily found in Chile and Argentina. Unlike other dragonfly families, these species are only represented by a single genus, Neopetalia.
– ChlorogomphidaeDragonfly: is a suborder of Anisoptera. This distinct group of dragonflies is made up of four genera: Chloropetalia, Sinorogomphus, Chlorogomphus, and Watanabeopetalia Libelluloidea.
The super-family has four dragonfly families.
– Corduliidae: Because of their green eyes, they are known as emerald dragonflies. Tetragoneuria is the most common genera in this family.
– Libellulidae: Also known as skimmers or perchers, the libellulidae is the largest dragonfly family in the world. There are over 1000 species in this dragonfly family. A skimmer’s abdomen can be thick or thin, depending on the species. The following are some of the genus in this family: Archaeophlebia, Aethiothemis, Anatya, and Atoconeura.
– Macromiidae: This family includes species such as skimmers and cruisers. They usually fly high above water and roadways and land right in the center of them. Macromiidae, which includes 25 species, is a subfamily of Corduliidae — a.k.a green-eyed skimmers.
Other Types of Dragonflies:
– Saddlebags or Black Saddlebags are also called “dancing gliders”. This is because they perform their courtship and lay eggs while dancing.
– Gliders: these dragonfly types are called by different names: pantala flavescens, wandering glider, the globe skimmer, and globe wanderer. They are the most common dragonflies on the planet.
– Darners belong to the Aeshnidae family. They are huge with a black body and blue patches. These species are likewise devoid of thoracic stripes on both the top and bottom, making them easier to be recognized.
|Fun facts: Dragonflies in prehistoric times were as large as crows.|
The prehistoric dragonflies were super enormous! Some dragonfly fossils had a wingspan of 30 inches, nearly the size of a modern crow. The largest dragonflies nowadays (Petalura ingentissima) are much smaller with a wingspan of 6.3 inches and can be found in Australia.
9. Dragonflies can thermoregulate
All insects, including dragonflies, are cold-blooded. They don’t have thermoregulation ability. This means they can’t self-regulate their body temperature like mammals, but rely on their surroundings. And dragonflies have several methods to regulate themselves.
– To get more warmth:
- When flying back and forth, dragonflies beat their wings fast enough to increase their body temperatures.
- When perching, dragonflies take advantage of solar energy. They adjust their bodies to get as much sunlight as possible to get warmth.
- Some are even smart enough to use their wings as reflectors to get direct sunlight toward their bodies.
– To reduce the heat:
- To limit sunlight exposure, dragonflies use their wings to deflect sunlight.
- To avoid dehydration, they skim over the surface of the water and quickly touch it (2 -3 times).
- Sometimes, on hot days, you’ll see a dragonfly performing a headstand also known as the “obelisk pose.” They will do a handstand and lift their abdomen straight up to the sky. This decreases the volume of skin exposed to sunlight on their body.
10. Male dragonflies fight for territory
Male dragonflies fight vigorously against other suitors in order to win mates. They claim and defend territories against other males. If a competitor flies into his preferred territory, he will do everything he can to force the competitor out. Other types of dragonflies do not fight for their territories. However, they still act aggressively to other males who are near their perches or enter their flight paths.
To reproduce, the male first takes the back of a female’s neck with claspers at the end of his abdomen, creating the wheel position.
In other species, the couple will only stay in this posture for a minute. But other pairs can remain for several hours. This is because the male attempts to take out any sperm from previous males that the female may mate with.
After breeding, the male will release the female and fly away, or he will escort her to the watery place where she lays her eggs. This is to protect her from other males. In certain species, the pair will stick together throughout the egg-laying activity.
|Fun facts: Male dragonflies have more than one sexual organ|
The male sex organs are found at the tip of the abdomen in most insects. Male dragonflies, on the other hand, are not like that. Their sexual organs are located on the abdomen’s underside, between the second and third segments. But the sperm is not here, it is kept in a hole in the ninth abdominal segment. That’s why the dragonfly must fold his abdomen before mating to deliver his sperm to his penis.
11. Life cycle of a dragonfly
There’s a reason why dragonflies are near ponds and lakes: their larvae are aquatic and they need water to become an adult dragonfly.
Dragonflies are born to swim, not to fly! Females lay their eggs on the surface of the water or in moss or water plants. The eggs will hatch from a few days to several weeks, depending on the types.
|Fun facts: Females can lay eggs in saltwater|
There’re not many female insects laying eggs in the ocean due to the saltwater. However, dragonflies don’t mind that. Some species can even reproduce in saltier surroundings than ordinary seawater.
The seaside dragonlet (Erythrodiplax berenicei) is a typical example. They are totally different from other species when living in saline lakes, mangroves, or even salt marshes. In North America, this is the only species living in a saltwater habitat range.
After hatching, dragonfly larvae (or nymphs) appear as aquatic organisms. For most of their life, dragonflies are nymphs, or juvenile insects, and live underwater. Nymphs hunt and eat any species (mostly aquatic invertebrates) that they can, such as tadpoles, mosquito larvae, or worms. Small fish can even become their diet as they grow up.
The damselfly nymph breathes using gills located within its rectum. Similarly, the dragonfly nymph draws water into its anus to aid in gas exchange. When discharging water, it pushes itself forward, giving it mobility in addition to breathing.
During the nymph phase, the dragonfly molts from six to twelve times underwater. When a nymph reaches adulthood, it swims out of the water, climbs a rock or plant stem, and molts for the last time.
Normally, nymphs live underwater for about two years. But some species can remain larval for up to six years.
Dragonflies go through incomplete metamorphosis. This means they don’t have a pupa stage like other insects like moths or butterflies. Dragonflies go straight from larva to fully adults.
The nymph’s skin breaks open, revealing the adult dragonfly. The freshly emerged dragonfly (teneral) needs several hours or days to gain its full capacity. It will rest for a while and then flies.
These new dragonflies are soft-bodied, fragile, and extremely vulnerable to predators. Before getting tougher, they can be eaten and die anytime. Predators like birds eat a large number of new baby dragonflies in the first few days.
A dragonfly can live for a few months or perhaps a few years, depending on the species. During this time, it mates with other dragonflies and reproduces.
12. Dragonflies can disguise in the air
During territorial battles with other male dragonflies, the Australian emperor dragonflies use a “motion camouflage” technique. They fly in a specific direction, making them seem to be motionless. But, in fact, they are coming to their rivals quickly.
The dragonflies can create this illusion due to following a flight path that keeps them between the target and the place from which they began to attack.
13. Dragonflies are a symbol of evil in Western culture
Dragonflies have different names throughout Europe, but they all have evil or sinister meanings. In Norwegian, their name means “eye-poker,” in Portuguese, it means “eye-snatcher”, and in North America, it means the “devil’s darning needle.”
A darning needle is a big, blunt needle used to patch holes or damaged areas in clothes or other fabrics. So why are dragonflies called devil’s darning needles? It’s all because of the horrific tale that dragonflies would stitch up the lips of mischievous kids while they slept.
However, in the East, dragonflies contrast sharply with how they have been seen in the West. Japanese regards them as a spiritual meaning that transcends self-created illusions that limit the ability to develop and change. They are believed to represent bravery, strength, success, and even happiness.
Dragonflies stand for good luck or wealth in certain civilizations. So, when you see a dragonfly, make a wish and it will come true. Fishermen use them as a sign to know which places are good for fishing. Plenty of dragonflies means plenty of fish at that place.
In Viet Nam, dragonflies are weather indicators. If dragonflies fly lowly, it will rain; if they fly high, it will be sunny; and if they fly at medium height, it’ll be shady.
14. Some Dragonflies Migrate
A number of dragonfly species have been observed migrating, either solo or in large groups. Dragonflies, like other migratory species, migrate to follow or discover needed resources, or to respond to climate changes.
Green darners move to the south in large swarms each autumn and then go back north again in the spring. The globe skimmer set a new record in the insect world when doing its 11,000-mile journey between India and Africa.
15. Dragonflies and damselflies
The dragonfly and damselfly are the only two primary members of the Odonata insect family. These look-alike insects easily make you confused. However, they still have some significant variances.
– Dragonflies are larger and have heavier bodies, whilst damselflies are slimmer.
– The dragonfly has four wings, whereas the damselfly has two.
– Dragonflies have a powerful direct flight, whereas damselflies have a fluttery flying.
– While resting, dragonflies keep their wings open, whereas damselflies fold their wings on top of their body.
– Last but not least, dragonfly eyes are connected in the middle, while damselfly eyes are located on opposite sides of their heads.
16. There’re sanctuaries for dragonflies
Dragonflies are affected by human threads, such as habitat loss or contamination. That’s why they need to be protected and sanctuaries can do this. The Dragonfly Center, the first dragonfly sanctuary in the United Kingdom, opened in 2009. If you are a dragonfly lover and in the US, you can watch them at the Dragonfly Sanctuary Pond in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Shimanto Dragonfly Park in Japan is another option for you.