Dragonflies — Demonic to their Prey but Delightful to the Eye

Make no mistake, if you were a flying insect dragonflies would represent a brutal threat to your existence, and in earlier stages of life, dragonfly nymphs — in their months or years underwater — make the ‘Aliens’ of movie-fame look like wimps!

Go back in time and they were even more fearsome. Meganeuropsis permiana, which was related to the present-day dragonflies, had an estimated wingspan of almost 28 inches, and this is the length of a big man’s arm, all the way from armpit to outstretched fingertips.  As its species name shows, Meganeuropsis lived in the Permian era, and the fossils showing its size were found at Elmo, Kansas.

The stunning looks of a small African dragonfly (Cameroon).  Photo copyright 1981, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
The stunning looks of a small African dragonfly (Cameroon). Photo copyright 1981, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

Many people may see butterflies as being more attractive than dragonflies — although some of us would disagree with that — but when it comes to evolutionary excellence the dragonfly is surely a candidate to be the king of the insect world.  Their eyesight is astonishing and their flying abilities must surely leave helicopter and fighter pilots envious!

Twelve-spot Skimmer (Western New York State). Photo copyright, 2010, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Twelve-spot Skimmer (Western New York State). Photo copyright, 2010, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

Dragonflies (Anisoptera) and their cousins the damselflies (Zygoptera) together form an order of carnivorous insects called the Odonata (a.k.a. odonates, or simply ‘odes’ in everyday conversation).

Exuvia of a recently-emerged dragonfly. (Capital District, NY State.) Photo copyright 2012, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Exuvia of a recently-emerged dragonfly. (Capital District, NY State.) Photo copyright 2012, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

Philip Corbet & Stephen Brook, in their ‘New Naturalist’ series book, ‘Dragonflies,’ (2008, UK), go one step further in recognising the amazing hunting skills of dragonflies when they suggest that true Anisopterans perhaps should be known as ‘warrior flies’.

Common Green Darners mating (male at top of photo). Photo copyright 2013, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Common Green Darners mating (male at top of photo). Photo copyright 2013, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

To quote the British Dragonfly Society[BDS], “Dragonflies are good indicators of the health of a habitat, so any variation in distribution or population size can indicate changes on a wider environmental scale.”  And in this day and age, that aspect alone is a serious reason for us taking interest.

Here on the west side of the Atalantic, there are a couple of key organizations:

  • The Dragonfly Society of the Americas [DSA] was organized during 1988 by several US Odonatists. Its purposes are to encourage scientific research, habitat preservation and the aesthetic enjoyment of Odonata;
  • The Xerces Society — nothing to do with Persian kings! — exists for the conservation of all invertebrates, odonates included.

In addition, and with strong support from both of the above, there is the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership [MDP], and as soon as time permits, I will be adding another page on this blog about the MDP ‘citizen science’ training day I attended (and greatly enjoyed) in New York State, in April 2014.

Female Calico Pennant (Western NY). Photo copyright 2013, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Female Callico Pennant (Western NY). Photo copyright 2013, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

Last but by no means least, there is Odonata Central, an excellent resource for anyone wishing to identify dragonflies or damselflies that they have encountered.

Eddie Wren

 

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