Insect Information, Facts, And Types: What Are Dragonflies?

Dragonflies were one of the earliest insects to appear on earth. Learn more!

In the prehistoric jungles of some 300 million years ago, when trees were towering giants, dragonflies as big as hawks soared through the air. We know this because their prehistoric remains have been found in the Permian rocks of Kansas, in the Jurassic formations of Siberia and many other parts of the world. With wings nearly thirty inches from tip to tip, they were the largest insects that ever lived.

Dragonflies were one of the earliest insect forms to appear on earth. The dragonfly has lived on as a creature from the distant past to this day, even while the dinosaurs passed into oblivion, and cavemen evolved into modern man. The only thing that changed about the dragonfly was its size. As the giant trees dwarfed, the dragonfly shrank.

The dragonfly is very much a creature of the air and of the sun. Although it has legs, which are spine-bordered and bunched forward, so it can cling and climb, it never walks. But in the air, a dragonfly is as graceful as a ballet dancer, while it swoops, turns, and zooms about at will. It can dive like a small plane, or hover like a helicopter, as long as the sun is shining.

Most dragonflies need the sun to fly, (except for a couple of Oriental species that hunt at night,) and will alight even when the sun goes behind a cloud for a few minutes. Dragonflies scoop up their victims with their legs, sucking their bodies dry and letting the carcasses fall to the ground. Dragonflies are beneficial insects, keeping the populations of pests like mosquitoes, down. Unfortunately, their nymphs are popular fish bait, so that in some parts of the country, they are in danger of becoming extinct!

The dragonfly has eyes that has many lenses. Its head is attached to the slender body in a way that the dragonfly can turn its head almost completely around, so it can see below as well as above him. The wings, which are veined and transparent, can move as much as twenty-eight times a second, carrying it through the air at speeds of about sixty miles an hour!

Dragonflies are distributed throughout much the world, with about 5000 species living today. The dragonfly is an aquatic insect, and has two stages in its life cycle-the aquatic and the adult. In the adult stages, the male and female mate, and then the female deposits her eggs in the water, which will turn into nymphs. After mating, the male dragonfly remains near the female to make sure no other males mate with her, and that his genetics remain pure in the next generation.

The nymphs of the dragonfly, which live in water, are carnivores, even devouring each other and even destroying newly emerged adults before their wings had a chance to harden and fly off into the sun. Most smaller dragonfly nymphs spend a year in the water, the larger varieties can be there from two to three years.

The transformation from underwater nymph to dragonfly is amazing. Usually it happens in the heat of the day, with a few exceptions. The wet dragonfly climbs from the water and clings to the bank or a stick or weed. As it does so, the suit of chitin armor splits and the damp, crumpled wings unfold. Then, as the glistening coat hardens in the bright sunshine, the dragonfly darts into the air, leaving behind a brown translucent shell. As much a miracle of Nature, as the transformation of a butterfly!

The adult dragonfly has a short life. It lives just long enough to mature and mate. In the Northern states the first cold of fall kills them off. Only the nymphs remain in their underwater home, carrying on the cycle of life, just as they had in the distant past. For a dragonfly, life and death are simple and direct, and the glittering wings cease beating in the numbing autumn cold. But through the miracle of Nature, the nymphs will once again shed their armor, and take to wing in the sunshine, and we will once again reap the benefit of their voracious appetites.

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