13 Impressive Facts About Dragonflies
Dragonflies are wonderful creatures and, unlike other flying insects like flies, mosquitoes, and wasps, they can’t harm you. They’re not annoying in the slightest. Dragonflies will only fly and find prey to eat. Interestingly enough, these insects can fly like a helicopter, stop mid-flight, fly backward, left, right, up, and down.
These insects do everything in the air, including mating. They mate mid-air, that’s right. And if they can’t catch prey mid-air, they’ll starve to death because they don’t know how to catch prey otherwise.
In this guide, I’ll present 13 facts about dragonflies that you should find interesting!
1. Dragonflies Evolved Millions of Years Ago
Even before dinosaurs existed, prehistoric dragonflies were dominating the air. In fact, dragonflies were among the first winged insects to evolve. It’s estimated that the first prehistoric dragonfly species Meganisoptera was around since the Carboniferous period, sometime between 358 and 298 million years ago. Needless to say, they’ve been around for a while.
Also, prehistoric dragonflies were very different from the ones we know today. Thanks to fossil records, we know that Griffenflies were a gigantic order of insects, reaching a wingspan of over 2 feet. Compared to the 2-inch average wingspan of dragonflies today, prehistoric dragonflies were at least 12 times larger. We can only be glad that giant insects are a thing of the past.
2. They Have Ferocious Teeth
Well, dragonflies don’t have teeth in the proper sense of the word. However, they have large and powerful mandibles. These mouthparts are lined with sharp, pointy, tooth-like serrations. They look a little bit like miniature saws. And these serrated mandibles come in handy when dragonflies catch and rip their prey to shreds while it’s still alive.
Leaving sinister details aside, these serrated teeth are the main reason behind this insect order’s name. You see, dragonflies belong to the order “Odonata”. This word is of Greek origin and it means “toothed ones”. Clearly, these iconic pointy teeth have left a mark.
3. Dragonflies Are Amazing Hunters
Dragonflies eat a carnivorous diet, so they must rely on their hunting skills for feeding. Luckily, this is not at all a challenge for them, because they’re a natural-born talent. They have a very high success rate when hunting for food. According to observational studies, dragonflies have a 90-95% success rate in catching prey.
They have very quick reflexes and they dart through the air before their prey can even sense their presence. If that weren’t enough, dragonflies can kill and feast on their unfortunate victims while they’re still midair. They catch their prey mid-flight before it can have a chance to fly away or hide.
How do they do it? Well, dragonflies are extremely fast, agile, and well-equipped. They can plan very effective ambushes thanks to their ability to judge the speed and trajectory of their prey. They can thus intercept their victims and grab them with their legs. Then, they use their sharp teeth to clip off the wings of their pray. You can use your imagination for what happens next.
4. Dragonflies Are Monster Flyers
The dragonfly is unmatched when it comes to flight ability. Their amazing skill plays a major role in their superior hunting skills. It also makes them very difficult for humans to catch. What’s so unique about dragonflies is their anatomy.
These insects have two sets of wings that connect to the thorax through a set of highly flexible muscles. This gives them the ability to move each of their 4 wings separately. They can move each wing up and down, forward and backward, and even rotate them at any angle they want.
Thanks to this, dragonflies are extremely quick and agile fliers. Unlike other insects, their flexible wings can help them achieve impressive feats. Besides flying straight up and down, dragonflies can also fly backward, sideways, they can hover, and they can even make U-turns when flying at full speed.
They can catch and eat prey while flying, and they can even mate mid-air. And let’s not forget their amazing speed. Some species can reach a top speed of 18 miles per hour.
5. They Have a Nearly 360-Degree Field of Vision
Dragonflies, like any other insect, have compound eyes. These eyes take up almost the entire surface of their head. And each of the dragonfly’s compound eyes contains 28,000 lenses. Combine all of these factors and you get a very broad field of vision.
These insects can see anything from virtually any reflection except right behind them. This wide field of vision comes in handy when dragonflies are hunting, but also when they’re flying in swarms. It helps them navigate their surroundings while avoiding in-flight collisions.
A 360-degree vision means dragonflies see in every direction, including behind, at the same time. Nothing can surprise them. Next time you want to catch a dragonfly, think about this.
6. They Don’t Sting or Bite People
They might sound like intimidating beasts. They’re difficult to catch, they fly incredibly fast, they’re great hunters, and they have sharp, lethal teeth. However, you shouldn’t worry about dragonflies becoming violent. They’re very peaceful around humans.
Dragonflies can’t sting and they rarely bite people. If they do, it’s only in self-defense, because there’s no reason for dragonflies to attack larger creatures. A dragonfly’s bite is powerful enough to rip other insects to shreds, but it can’t pierce through human skin. At worst, it might feel like a pinch.
Don’t put your finger in their mouths, though. It might sting a little bit. Leave them alone and they won’t have a reason to attack you. It seldom happens, even if you go near them and try to catch them. They’ll just fly away in annoyance and buzz away unhappily. But they won’t attack or sting you.
7. Dragonfly Nymphs Live in The Water
You’ll often spot dragonflies next to rivers, lakes, streams, and other bodies of water. There’s a good reason for that. Dragonfly nymphs are aquatic creatures. Right after hatching, the nymphs will continue living in the water for around a year. But some species have a longer lifespan as nymphs, close to two years.
They spend their time in the water hunting for food, eating, and molting. They’ll eat just about anything small enough to bring down. From mosquitoes, larvae, and other insects, all the way to tadpoles and even smaller fish, nothing is off-limits.
It takes between 6 and 15 molting cycles for a nymph to reach its final adult form. When they’re done growing, the adult dragonflies emerge from the water and shed their exoskeleton one last time, before they can start flying.
8. Dragonfly Nymphs Breathe Through Their Butts
Adult dragonflies breathe through small holes in their abdomens. However, during the larval (nymph) stage, they breathe underwater with the help of gills. These gills are located inside the insect’s rectum and they help with the exchange of gases.
The dragonfly nymph pulls oxygen-rich water inside its body and then pushes it back out. This breathing system also serves as a means of locomotion, because the larvae can use it to propel themselves forward.
9. Adult Dragonflies Have a Short Lifespan
Dragonflies spend most of their life as larvae. This is by far the longest life stage, which lasts between 1-2 years, depending on the species in question. Some species can even spend 5 years in this stage.
However, once dragonflies emerge from the water and shed their skin for the last time, they have very little time left for breeding and laying eggs. On average, adult dragonflies live for just 4-5 weeks. However, some species are known to live longer, sometimes up to a year.
10. Dragonflies Can Self-Regulate Their Body Temperature
Like all insects, dragonflies are ectotherms. They need an external source of heat to warm up their bodies and to gather the energy to move around. They usually bask in the sun during the morning before getting ready to fly.
But just because they’re cold-blooded insects, that doesn’t mean they don’t have an ace up their figurative sleeve. Dragonflies can use their wings to raise their body temperature in different ways. They can fly back and forth over short distances. They use rapid whirring movements to warm up their muscles and bodies.
They can also use their wings to reflect or deflect sunlight depending on their needs. If they need extra thermal energy, they can reflect sunlight towards their bodies. If they’re overheating, they can use the wings to reduce the surface area of their body that gets exposed to the sun.
11. Some Species of Dragonflies Migrate
While not all dragonfly species migrate, there are lots of migratory species that have been observed. In fact, dragonfly migration takes place on all continents except for Antarctica. Some migratory species might take off towards the south every year. Others migrate on a more sporadic schedule.
When the weather gets cold, dragonflies begin migrating south to mate and lay eggs. The next generation of insects spends an entire life cycle in the new location. Then, the next generation of general adults embarks on a long journey back to the north.
There’s a long, multi-generational type of migration going on. And some migratory species can cover impressive distances. One species nicknamed the “globe skinner” holds the world record for the longest migrated distance of any insect, which is 11,000 miles across the Indian Ocean.
12. Dragonflies Are Beneficial for Humans
Most of us don’t have a soft spot for bugs. Still, dragonflies are rarely among the top list of most disliked insects. They’re beautiful, graceful, and harmless, so it’s really no wonder most people are OK with them. But did you know that dragonflies are also extremely useful for us humans?
A dragonfly’s diet consists of only insects. These guys will eat anything small enough for them to overpower. And they have voracious appetites too. Any adult dragonfly can eat its own body weight in insects every day. Most dragonflies will eat between 30 to more than a hundred insects daily.
So, dragonflies can help us keep pest populations in check. And since they’re carnivorous, they won’t damage manmade crops in the process. You can expect dragonflies to eat virtually any type of insect, including mosquitoes, flies, midges, biting flies, moths, bees, grasshopper, butterflies, and even other dragonflies.
13. Dragonflies Are Edible
Dragonflies are notoriously tasty, especially in Indonesia, where they toss them into a frying pan and eat them whole. They do remove the wings from adult dragonflies before cooking them, though. People catch dragonflies with a stick covered in sticky sap that they wave through the air.
The dragonflies end up getting stuck on the stick eventually, and you’re free to eat them. If you’re not the icky type, you can even eat them raw by popping them into your mouth. But I recommend cooking them professionally. Indonesian chefs say that dragonflies taste like soft-shell crabs.
Both nymphs and adult dragonflies are edible and you don’t have to worry about poison or venom. These insects aren’t venomous or poisonous, and they can’t harm you if you eat them.
Are dragonflies wonderful creatures that can benefit even us humans? Yes, they are. They’re expert fliers, non-aggressive, and they’re also great hunters. They can hunt almost any flying insect that’s no bigger than them. There are many more interesting facts about dragonflies but I think I covered most of them in this list.
If you have any questions, leave them in the comment section. I’ll reply as soon as possible!