Dragonflies are ancient insects that have existed for millions of years; you can find them in diverse habitats worldwide. They are known for their mesmerizing flight patterns and vibrant colors. Their aerial agility alone is enough reason for us to curate intriguing dragonfly facts we know you will enjoy.
As you read through the top dragonfly facts, you'll better appreciate their unique characteristics and behaviors.
Dragonflies belong to the order Odonata, which includes the damselfly. They can thrive anywhere in the world except Antarctica. They are highly diverse and abundant species. Today, there are 5,000 recorded dragonfly species in the world.
Their wings can be as small as 20 mm (Northern Pygmyfly or Tiny Dragonfly) or as big as 5 inches (Giant Darner). Most adult dragonflies live between 1-8 weeks.
Read more: Types of Dragonflies.
Dragonflies are one of the fastest-flying insects in the world. They can hover like helicopters, fly backwards effortlessly, and even reach astonishing speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. Some species can even achieve speeds up to 60 miles per hour (97 kilometers per hour). This unparalleled control allows the insects to evade predators, pursue prey, and engage in intricate mating rituals.
The secret behind their exceptional flight skills lies in the dragonfly's two pairs of transparent wings, which move independently. They can manipulate each wing pair to execute a wide range of maneuvers.
For example, they can change direction mid-flight by tweaking the angle and speed of their wingbeats. Additionally, their wings' flexibility and strength, combined with the power of their wing muscles, let dragonflies sustain flight.
Dragonflies have various names across different regions and cultures. The term "dragonfly" refers to the insect's resemblance to mythical dragons.
For instance, the name "Devil's Darning Needle" originates from European folklore, where people believed dragonflies sewed the mouths of misbehaving children. Meanwhile, in the Southern United States, they are called "Snake Doctors" because people think they can protect them from snakes or even cure snakebites.
The dragonfly's head mainly comprises its eyes, giving them an extraordinary range of vision that spans almost 360 degrees.
This unique feature enables them to see objects, movements, and colors accurately, except for a tiny blind spot directly behind them. Such a wide field of view is crucial for their success as aerial predators, allowing them to detect, track, and capture prey. For instance, they catch 90% of their prey.
Notably, dragonflies have eyes with up to 30,000 individual lenses, known as ommatidia, making up their large compound eyes. Each ommatidium functions separately, gathering light and sending information to the dragonfly's brain at an astounding speed.
This complex network of lenses helps them detect a wide array of colors, including ultraviolet light. It enables them to perceive fast movements with impressive accuracy.
Dragonflies have existed for over 300 million years since the Carboniferous period. These fossil dragonflies were much larger in the past, with wingspans reaching up to two feet. One species called "Meganeura" was among the biggest insects ever known.
Early species, in the order Protodonata, looked similar to modern dragonflies but had less flexible wings and simpler venation patterns. Interestingly, dragonflies have shown the ability to adapt to various environments, which developed throughout their evolutionary journey.
They were crucial in shaping land ecosystems as the first winged insects to live on land. Around 252 million years ago, the Permian-Triassic extinction event led to the demise of numerous larger insect species and caused their size to shrink significantly.
Dragonflies eat insects like mosquitoes, flies, other flying insects, and even other dragonflies. As aerial hunters, they help control the insect population. To catch their prey, dragonflies use their legs as makeshift baskets to seize their targets mid-flight. Swiftly maneuvering through the air, they arrange their spiny legs into a scoop-like formation.
Their exceptional vision further enhances this ingenious hunting method, allowing them to spot and track prey accurately. In fact, their hunting success rate is up to 97%3! That is higher than famous big cats or ocean predators. Furthermore, they are not aggressive towards people. Contrary to popular belief, they are gentle creatures and don't bite humans.
Love is truly in the air when these fascinating creatures mate. Why? These species form a heart shape mid-air during copulation.
Mating occurs during the warmer months. To attract the females, males perform a dazzling array of aerial displays. These mesmerizing maneuvers, including dives, loops, and zigzag flights, highlight the males' agility and strength and signal their desirability as mates.
Having impressed a female, the male dragonfly utilizes a specialized structure at the tip of his abdomen, called a clasper, to latch onto the female's head or thorax. This secure grip enables the pair to form a unique heart-shaped formation known as the mating or copulation wheel.
In this position, the male transfers sperm to the female's reproductive organs, found at the base of her abdomen. In the animal kingdom, few species can rival the intricately choreographed dance of dragonfly courtship.
The following dragonfly fact about their life cycles is a must-read for insect lovers.
The incredible dragonfly life cycle features a unique transformation called incomplete metamorphosis. What does this mean? Dragonflies do not go through a pupal stage as other insects do. Instead, they directly transition from their larval stage to adulthood.
The female dragonfly lays eggs in freshwater habitats. Once these eggs hatch, they turn into aquatic nymphs. The dragonfly nymph can spend a few weeks to several years underwater.
The young dragonflies are voracious predators that breathe through gills. They can eat anything; they eat tadpoles, mosquitoes, fish, and other insect larvae. Sometimes, they even eat other dragonfly larvae.
During this aquatic phase, the dragonfly nymphs undergo a series of molts as they grow and develop. After the final molt, the dragonfly larva climbs out of the water onto a nearby plant or other suitable surface. It anchors itself firmly and begins the incredible metamorphosis process, where the nymph's outer skin splits open. A winged adult dragonfly called an imago emerges.
If you prefer insects undergoing complete metamorphosis, read our butterfly facts.
As previously mentioned, dragonflies have specially adapted to aquatic life. Dragonfly nymphs can live underwater from a few months–like the Emerald damselfly–to six years, like the Golden-ringed dragonfly.
This stage is crucial for the growth and development of these aquatic insects, as nymphs shed their exoskeletons up to 17 times before becoming adult dragonflies.
Dragonflies are known for undertaking some of the longest migrations among insects. For example, the globe skimmer dragonfly (Pantala flavescens) holds the record for the longest migration, traveling a total of 11,000 miles across the Indian Ocean from Asia to Africa2.
These dragonflies migrate to find mates, suitable breeding grounds, favorable feeding habitats, and better climatic conditions. Using the wind, they can cover such vast distances. Dragonfly wings have increased surface areas, allowing them to use the wind for flying and saving energy.
Another species, the green darners, can travel as far as 900 miles. They migrate throughout North America, from Mexico to Canada.
These insects prey on mosquitoes, effectively controlling their populations. As nymphs, dragonflies hunt and devour mosquito larvae. Their insatiable hunger for these potential disease carriers remains unwavering as they mature.
Typically, dragonflies swarm in late summer and early fall, often in response to certain environmental conditions such as humidity, a sudden increase in insect population, or the presence of a water body nearby.
The presence of dragonflies within ecosystems is crucial in maintaining a delicate balance, particularly in controlling the spread of mosquito-borne diseases. Further, they help reduce the population of biting flies, making the summer a bit more comfortable for us humans. Studies have shown that the capability of a single dragonfly to consume hundreds of mosquitoes prevents diseases like malaria1.
The IUCN Red List currently documents 142,577 species, alarmingly with 40,084 facing potential extinction. From the heavily populated group of insects, which makes up a vast portion of our biodiversity, only 12,100 species have received assessments thus far, and around half of these are dragonfly species (6,016).
This underscores the likelihood of a significant biodiversity loss due to human impact. Deforestation, wetland draining, and water pollution are causing habitat loss and significantly impacting dragonfly populations worldwide.
As a response, conservationists have begun implementing strategies to protect and restore dragonfly habitats—for instance, wetland restoration projects, removal of invasive species, and reintroduction of native plants.
After these dragonfly facts impress you, remember to share more about these fascinating insects with your friends. Let's spread the love for these ancient insects who deserve to exist for many more years.
Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with D.
Vatandoost, H. (2021b). Dragonflies as an Important Aquatic Predator Insect and Their Potential for Control of Vectors of Different Diseases. Journal of Marine Science, 3(3).
Hedlund, J., Lv, H., Lehmann, P., Hu, G., Anderson, R. C., & Chapman, J. W. (2021). Unraveling the World’s Longest Non-stop Migration: The Indian Ocean Crossing of the Globe Skimmer Dragonfly. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 9.
Olberg, R. M., Worthington, A. H., & Venator, K. R. (2000). Prey pursuit and interception in dragonflies. Journal of Comparative Physiology A-neuroethology Sensory Neural and Behavioral Physiology, 186(2), 155–162.
Chinny Verana is a degree-qualified marine biologist and researcher passionate about nature and conservation. Her expertise allows her to deeply understand the intricate relationships between marine life and their habitats.
Her unwavering love for the environment fuels her mission to create valuable content for TRVST, ensuring that readers are enlightened about the importance of biodiversity, sustainability, and conservation efforts.
Fact Checked By:
Mike Gomez, BA.