What Do Dragonflies Eat?
Dragonfly Eating an Unlucky Bug
We watch dragonflies flying around the pond and they are beautiful. But what DO dragonflies eat? A dragonfly is an agile predator. Adult dragonflies and dragonfly nymphs (the stage of the dragonfly that lives in the water) are excellent hunters and mainly eat other insects.Have you ever heard of a dragonfly going on a diet? No? We haven’t either, because these little critters are carnivorous in their minds, bodies and soul. A fun fact here - A dragonfly can eat food equal to its own weight in about 30 minutes. Which roughly translates into a you trying to eat as much as 100 lb…let alone in half an hour. We don’t eat that amount of food in a week!
From the time they get out of their eggs as little nymphs, their limbs and mouth yearn for meat and seek out prey underwater. They are extremely fast swimmers and will eat just about anything that moves under the water surface and on. They have a hyper-thrust mechanism to give them the extra speed-boost when they are pursuing a critter that gives the dragonfly nymph a run for its money. For a quick burst of speed, they eject water from their anal opening to act like a jet propulsion system, which makes it a near impossible feat for the nymph dragonfly’s prey to even think of an escape.If you think this is spectacular, wait till you hear this. Occasionally, the nymph will venture out of the water to get a quick snack from the land. It does this with such nonchalance that when seen this way, one would never really consider the dragonfly nymph to be primarily aquatic, and never ‘ever’ an aquatic insect with gills. As Nymphs, the dragonflies eat mosquito larvae, other aquatic insects and worms, and for a little variety even small aquatic vertebrates like tadpoles and small fish.
Dragonfly Munching on a Cricket
Once they are ready to leave their aquatic homes, they crawl above the water surface, molt to shed their skin one last time before they take to the skies as elegant dragonflies. Do they change what they eat once they’re airborne? Hardly!
Adult Dragonflies are born rulers of their domain and they prove it to just about every insect that thinks it can pull a fast one on this killing machine. The adult dragonfly uses the basket formed by its legs to catch insects while flying. The adult dragonfly likes to eat gnats, mayflies, flies, mosquitoes and other small flying insects. They sometimes eat butterflies, moths and bees too.
From bees to mosquitoes, dragonflies make a meal out of what they please and can hunt down insects on a whim, callously plucking them out of thin air after out-flying outmaneuvering and them in the chase that does not normally last very long.
To give you a little insight, the dragonfly that is many times the size of a mosquito or a housefly needs to flap its wings a mere 30 times a minute when compared to a mosquito’s 600 times a minute and the housefly’s 1000 flaps a minute requirement to keep them flying and in peak maneuverability. Such is the power that the dragonfly is equipped with and given its low-energy speed capability, very, very few insects can escape its basket shaped grabbing limbs that it uses to clutch on to its prey before crushing the critter into a gooey mass, with its powerful mandibles and swallowing it.
Adult dragonflies eat just about anything that is edible and can be caught. They are a treasure for humanity because they keep mosquito populations under strict control by feasting on them when they are in abundance. Similarly, they also feed on ants, termites, butterflies, gnats, bees and other insects and tend to hunt in groups when large colonies of ants or termites are spotted.
They are considered a pest by apiaries because they can polish off a good chunk of the bee population before one can realize the threat looming large.
Writing about what dragonflies eat makes one wonder what would be the case if some of the older dragonfly species that have been found as fossils existed today. These fossil species belonging to the Meganeura genus were carnivorous insects with wings spreading to spans in the range of two and a half feet and made their food out of other insects and even small amphibians. If they were still alive today, we’d have to constantly watch our small pets to be sure they didn’t end up a dragonfly’s lunch!
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Flying insects are usually annoying. Mosquitoes bite you, leaving itchy red welts. Bees and wasps sting. Flies are just disgusting. But there’s something magical about dragonflies.
1 ) Dragonflies were some of the first winged insects to evolve, some 300 million years ago. Modern dragonflies have wingspans of only two to five inches, but fossil dragonflies have been found with wingspans of up to two feet.
2 ) Some scientists theorize that high oxygen levels during the Paleozoic era allowed dragonflies to grow to monster size.
3 ) There are more than 5,000 known species of dragonflies, all of which (along with damselflies) belong to the order Odonata, which means “toothed one” in Greek and refers to the dragonfly’s serrated teeth.
4 ) In their larval stage, which can last up to two years, dragonflies are aquatic and eat just about anything—tadpoles, mosquitoes, fish, other insect larvae and even each other.
5 ) At the end of its larval stage, the dragonfly crawls out of the water, then its exoskeleton cracks open and releases the insect’s abdomen, which had been packed in like a telescope. Its four wings come out, and they dry and harden over the next several hours to days.
6 ) Dragonflies are expert fliers. They can fly straight up and down, hover like a helicopter and even mate mid-air. If they can’t fly, they’ll starve because they only eat prey they catch while flying.
7 ) Dragonflies catch their insect prey by grabbing it with their feet. They’re so efficient in their hunting that, in one Harvard University study, the dragonflies caught 90 to 95 percent of the prey released into their enclosure.
8 ) The flight of the dragonfly is so special that it has inspired engineers who dream of making robots that fly like dragonflies.
9 ) Some adult dragonflies live for only a few weeks while others live up to a year.
10 ) Nearly all of the dragonfly’s head is eye, so they have incredible vision that encompasses almost every angle except right behind them.
11 ) Dragonflies, which eat insects as adults, are a great control on the mosquito population. A single dragonfly can eat 30 to hundreds of mosquitoes per day.
12 ) Hundreds of dragonflies of different species will gather in swarms, either for feeding or migration. Little is known about this behavior, but the Dragonfly Swarm Project is collecting reports on swarms to better understand the behavior. (Report a swarm here.)
13 ) Scientists have tracked migratory dragonflies by attaching tiny transmitters to wings with a combination of eyelash adhesive and superglue. They found that green darners from New Jersey traveled only every third day and an average of 7.5 miles per day (though one dragonfly traveled 100 miles in a single day).
14 ) A dragonfly called the globe skinner has the longest migration of any insect—11,000 miles back and forth across the Indian Ocean.
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