Dragonfly is one of the oldest insect species in the world. Fossils found 300 million years old proved their existence. And today they are considered as the symbol of transformation and adaptability. Also called ‘water dipper’ in England, ‘old glassy’ in China and ‘big needle of wings’ by the ancient Celts. These insects have 5000 identified species with various colors and sizes. Recent days Oding (dragonfly watch, similar to bird watch) became famous to know more about them, and there is such a lot to get surprised. Here are some facts,
1. Dragonfly belong to the family ‘Odonata’, meaning they have head, 6legs, thorax, 2sets of wings and abdomen. The colors of their body also list them as one of the most colorful insects. They can be yellow, blue, green, red brown or golden brown with golden wings.
They can grow 2-3 inches in average. The largest species is the Giant Petaltail (Petalura ingentissima), it has a wingspan of 6.3 inches and found in northeastern Australia. whereas, the smallest species is the Pygmy Dragonfly (Nannophya pygmaea) from Eastern Asia, the wingspan is about 0.8 inches. But, the prehistoric ancestors were much bigger having wingspan stretched over 2.5 feet.
Recently, Scientists made an experiment by placing dragonfly larva in a test chamber which mirrors the earth’s oxygen levels from 300 million years ago. As a result, dragonflies grew about 15% larger than their normal size.
3. These creatures can be found all over the world due to their adaptation capabilities but, they prefer warmer climate having water sources nearby. India is home for around 95 species of dragonflies.
They have three stages during their life period. Females lay eggs in ponds or marsh lands, generally on aquatic plants in swallow water.
The eggs take as little as 5-6 days to hatch and the nymphs come out. It is the longest stage of any dragonfly’s life. They live in water for 2 years, for some species it can be as long as 6 years. At this stage, nymphs use their gills for respiration and most interestingly, they are born predators. Nymphs hunt on almost anything they can handle. Tadpoles, mosquito larvae, insects even small fish also.
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6. After aquatic stage, the nymphs break their exoskeleton, stick out from water with the tail first. The wings get dry in hours or days and appear like a dragon fly we are familiar to see.
Dragonflies have huge eyes that cover up a large area. Look close and you will see these compound eyes are made of approximately 30,000 facets. These all make nearly 360 degree vision except right behind their back. Their eyes are so capable that can keep watch on a target in swarm and fly towards it avoiding any collision.
8. Their eyes are also capable of motion detection and sense lights beyond human eyes can see, including ultra violet light.
Dragonflies have very strong jaws. The incredibly sharp mandibles can catch and tear apart victim’s wings quickly so the prey couldn’t escape. Odonata means ‘toothed ones‘ and the name came from those Jaws. They catch and eat the prey into small pieces by tearing.
They are very freaky and good fliers, which also add more characteristics to their hunting capabilities. These creatures can hover like a helicopter, fly forward, backward, even sideways which make them a formidable Ariel ambush predator. They are also one of the fastest insects, able to speed up 30kms per hour yet super agile and able to turn in an eye blink.
11. The most jaw dropping fact is also related to their hunting technique and making them such successful. A dragonfly can see and calculate the flying pattern and trajectory of the prey to catch it in mid air. The 4 wings are attached with muscle that can move independently so, they can change the angle of each wing.
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12. They need to bask in the sun to warm up as their thorax needs to reach 25 degree C in order to flight. If sun is not present, some species warm up by shaking their muscles before take off.
Green darners from New Jersey travel only once in three days with an average of 7.5 miles, but the Globe skimmers fly across ocean during migration, up-to 11,000 miles (17,700 kilometers), the world’s longest insect migration. Speed, distance, and flexibility when hunting, dragonflies are one of the most exceptional fliers on the planet.
14. Their wings provide superior stability with high load-bearing capacity in flight, gliding, and hovering, but, these wings are made of membranes and veins with a complex design that provides excellent versatility, agility.
15. Although, the nymphs live for several years, but after transformed into a dragonfly, they only live for 4-5 weeks only.
They have many predators like ducks, birds, water beetles, bigger types of fish, and humans. Fried dragonflies are one of the very popular snacks in some Asian countries, and there are professional hunters to hunt the swarms in various methods.
17. They may be fierce predators but, not harmful to humans. In fact, many engineers got influenced and motivated by their flying technique, which gave birth of modern drones and flying robots.
18. Dragonflies need protection from the dangers humans have created, from pollution to habitat loss. Thankfully, there are sanctuaries around the world. The United Kingdom got it’s first dragonfly sanctuary, the Dragonfly Center, in 2009. New Mexico also has sanctuary pond and home to an amazing diversity of dragonfly and damselfly species. Across the Pacific, wildlife sanctuaries in Japan also protect dragonfly habitats and the diversity of the species.