Animal stories: dragonflies
Dragonflies are among the most ancient flying insects. They were around before the dinosaurs. They are ferocious hunters as well. The name ‘dragonfly’ comes from their fierce jaws which they use to catch their flies. They eat other insects, catching them while they are flying.
There are various colours of dragonflies like red, fuchsia, orange, pink, blue, gold, saffron, black, emerald, maroon, earth tones, and more, but also in metallic colours. Like all insects, they have a three-part body: a head, a thorax, and a long, thin, segmented abdomen. They have two huge compound eyes, three pairs of jointed legs and two pairs of long and delicate wings. Some have coloured, spotted or banded wings.
They can’t fold their wings so they rest their wings held straight out. They breathe through tiny holes in the abdomen called spiracles.
Dragonflies do not sting or bite people. They have no stingers and they use their mouths only to bite their prey.
Dragonflies have the advantage of excellent eyesight. Each of their two large eyes is made up of thousands of six-sided units. Together, these smaller eyes enable a dragonfly to detect even the slightest movement. So catching a dragonfly is quite difficult. One needs quick eyes and fast hands to catch them.
It is safer to hold them by their all four wings together with two of our fingers. They might bite if grasped by the abdomen in order to escape.
There are two types of dragonfly — the darters and the hawkers. They vary from the way they hunt. Both are brilliant flyers and can fly very fast. The darters have fatter and shorter bodies and they wait for the prey to come past and then they dart out and catch them. The hawkers are longer and thinner and they patrol up and down looking out for prey.
They usually eat mosquitoes and other small insects like flies, bees and butterflies.
They are also called mosquito hawk because they catch and eat so many mosquitoes. That is why they are beneficial to humans too.
Dragonflies are mostly seen in summer skimming the ponds and rivers. They are found around lakes, ponds, streams and wetlands because their larvae known as ‘nymphs’ are aquatic. Like grown up dragonflies, the nymphs are fierce hunters eating all sorts of pond animals like tadpoles. They have a strange lower jaw or mask that can extend to catch passing prey. The mask has hooks along its edge to help grab the prey.
They begins their life as an egg. Adult female dragonflies lay their eggs in water. After about two weeks, the eggs hatch and an immature dragonfly or nymph emerges.
The nymphs have tiny wings and a large lower lip, which they use to catch their prey. Dragonfly nymphs live in the water. As they grow, they shed their skin. Nymphs of some species may take as long as three years to mature. When the nymphs reaches maturity, they crawl out of the water onto a plant stem. Then their skin begins to split and an adult dragonfly emerges. After that they will be able to fly. The process takes about two hours. It takes
about two days before the adult dragonfly’s beautiful colours are fully developed. They live only a few months. — Compiled by Merina Pradhan