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Meet the Dragonfly

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One of Nature’s most intriguing and fascinating insects, and the subject of mankind’s most sublime and ridiculous myths and mythologies, the dragonfly darts around going about its business as usual, blissfully unaware and oblivious to the interest it has generated in us. And perhaps thankfully for us because if the dragonfly were to understand that we have called it the “Devils darning needle” and “gwas-y-neidr” or the Adder’s Servant, it could laugh long and hard at us…and considering the dragonfly has been around for over 300 million years, it could be a really, really long laugh.

The primary fascination that humans have had with dragonflies is because

  • Of its ability to seek out pure water
  • Of its ability to Reflect multiple colors with changing angles of light
  • Of its awe inspiring flight and speed
  • Of its ability to almost single handedly control insect populations
  • Of its ability to adapt to change with indescribable ease
  • Of the way it lives out its adult life, living each moment to the fullest

We have specific pages dedicated to the different aspects of the dragonfly in this website and lots of information and trivia associated with this fascinating creature.
To give you a heads up, while dragonflies were almost deified as the souls of the dead in Native American culture and heralded as symbols of purity and change, they were symbols of victory, power and prosperity, and the native Burmese (now Myanmar) regularly released dragonfly nymphs into the water surrounding their settlements to control the populations of Yellow Fever causing mosquitoes.

Dragonflies are natural and seriously efficient predators and can deliver a telling blow to insect populations in areas that they are present in good numbers, so much so that normal people are saved from most mosquito-spread diseases, and bee keepers consider dragonflies as a pest.


Dragonfly Close UpThe dragonfly, owing to its position in the food chain, is not scared…so if you find one flying over to you and sometimes looking you in the eye for a few moments, don’t be surprised or shocked. It’s what it does…look with its 30,000 eyes, to find food and mates. Oh, while 30,000 is an approximate number, it is the number of ommatidia that dragonflies have within their compound eyes.

Like all arthropods, dragonflies have compound eyes - only, they are a little more specialized, suited for a born predator.

When dragonflies see, they don’t exactly see…they more sense. Sense movement at a much wider angle than any human could even imagine. The reason being, its eyes are ball-like and see at a complete 360 degree span. Each Ommatidia, called Ommatidium in singular, is an eye in itself, capable of seeing anything right in front of it. This helps the dragonfly sense movement anywhere around it.

Furthermore, the dragonfly has a flattened area right in front of its eyes with a concentration of eye cells that see directly in front. This helps it see the little mosquito as it flies around, so it can home in on its meal. Other predators of the Arthropod family like the Praying Mantis and the best fliers like bees have similar flattened fronts to help them see better, as they fly.

The body of the dragonfly is supported by two pairs of extremely powerful wings that help it float at the slightest breeze and can flap fast and hard enough to hover even against a strong head wind. Here again, although its wings are transparent and seem quite frail, you’ll find they’re a whole lot stronger than they might seem at first sight. The construction of my wings and the fact that they are not jointed like those of butterflies, and can operate independently, helps the dragonfly fly and run a neat little air show on its own, capable of flight in all directions, up, down, left, right, forwards and even backwards. Nope, the hummingbird is not the only one that can go on the reverse gear.

The surfaces of dragonfly’s wings are not smooth. They have small pocket like ridges that catch even the slightest gust of wind to take flight. Although the rough surface poses a certain degree of aerodynamic drag, the dragonfly can move fast enough, and more importantly, have enough control in flight to make sure if it catches sight of its meal, it’s as good as eaten. Not many an insect escape its six legs once the chase begins, as it out-flies the prey and grabs it using its legs to eat them at ease. To make it as simple as possible, the legs are positioned in such a way that they form a pouch like shape. This helps grab prey leaving them with very little chance of an escape.

As the dragonfly flies a lot, it needs to both heat up and cool off and hence, the famous Obelisk pose. The muscles that flap its wings need to be warm at all times.

Coming back to the Obelisk, dragonflies bask in the sun as much as possible when they need the heat. And when they need a little breather from the warmth, they position their bodies in such a way that it makes little or no direct contact with the sun’s rays.

They also do something quite similar to catch the warmth of the setting sun. Same pose, vastly different purposes.

This is about the biology of the beautiful dragonfly. If you want to know more about the lifecycle of the dragonfly, what it eats or what the dragonfly symbolizes, check out the pages dedicated to each.


Dragonflies in the News

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