Dragonflies – A Quick Guide

Dragonflies may be a majestic mystery to you, but these are actually very fascinating insects. Here you will find some of the most common questions answered.

What is a Dragonfly?

Dragonflies are part of the Odonata insect order alongside damselflies. They have long bodies of up to 6 inches (15 cm) in length with 4 long horizontal wings. They are mostly spotted near water. These insects can actually reach up to 35MPH and are known for their darting flight. Their ability to fly and hover is so effective they have become the inspiration for the development of drone technology. Dragonflies can also be extremely important insects for the environment. They are prey for birds and fish, but they also hunt other insects such as mosquitos. Dragonflies are insects that can be valuable bioindicators for a healthy ecosystem because they require clean water and consistent oxygen levels to survive. There are over 5,000 species of dragonflies and one of the oldest species of flying insects, dating back over 300 million years.

Where are Dragonflies Found?

Dragonflies live across the globe and can be found on every continent, with the exception of Antarctica.  But where exactly do they live? That depends on the stage of life that they are in. The easiest way to answer this question is to say that they can primarily be found near freshwater locations, such as rivers, ponds, marshes, and lakes. These insects also tend to prefer milder climates.

During the egg stage, dragonflies hatch in water. As they develop into the nymph stage, which can last from months to years, they stay around water. When they become adults, they still prefer to stay around wetlands in areas with adequate warmth.

Dragonfly – Nelia Urbanek@123rf.com

Do Dragonflies Attack Humans?

Dragonflies are territorial insects, but they will not go out of their way to attack humans. They will only attack people if caught. They are harmless to people.

Do Dragonflies Have Stingers?

Dragonflies do not have stingers. When they hunt, they use their mouth to kill prey. 

Do Dragonflies Bite?

Dragonflies have very powerful and decently sized jaws, which can make them terrifying predators. However scary these jaws may make them look, they are actually not very dangerous to humans. They can bite humans and will do so in self-defense, but they can’t cause any serious damage. Only the largest of the dragonfly species can break human skin, but otherwise these bites are pretty harmless.

Do dragonflies go through metamorphosis?

Dragonflies go through a metamorphosis – however, they skip one stage of the process known as the pupal phase. They, therefore, go through what is called incomplete metamorphosis. Once they turn into adults, they tend to live for about 2-3 months- where the whole life process takes about 6 months.

The life cycle of a dragonfly includes three stages. The egg, the nymph stage, and then develop into an adult dragonfly. Most of the dragonfly’s life is spent in the nymph phase, around 3 months, where they spend time growing wings and developing their features.

Do dragonflies fly at night?

Dragonflies do their flying between dawn and dusk but will not be seen flying around at night. While they don’t necessarily sleep in the conventional sense, they do go into a dormant state of inactivity at night time. They need heat from the sun to warm up their flight muscles and will bask in the sun to gain energy. For more information about insects and sunlight go here.

Do dragonflies change color?

Dragonflies can change color. The abdomen in some male tropical species changes from a bright to a darker color when the temperature drops. At 30ºC they may be bright red in color but change to a grey color will falling temperatures. As dragonflies are much less active in colder weather the change in color might be a way of helping the dragonfly to be less conspicuous.

Do dragonflies carry their young?

Dragonflies will not carry their young or do any type of parenting. The male will only stay with their mate long enough to protect her while she finds the perfect spot to lay her eggs. The females will typically glide along the surface of the water while their abdomens are submerged to lay eggs in the water. Sometimes, depending on the species, they lay their eggs in mud or algae. They can lay hundreds of eggs. After the eggs are laid, the female dragonfly has completed her job and leaves. There is no care for the dragonfly by their parents after this.

Do dragonflies die in winter?

As nymphs, they spend their winter feeding so that they can grow into adults by early spring. This makes them different from most insects, which are usually inactive during the cold winter months. Adults prefer mild environments. They become active in the summer months but will die before the onset of winter.

Do dragonflies die after mating?

Dragonflies die after mating, but not because of the act itself. Rather dragonflies have a very short lifespan, so they generally don’t live long after they reach the adult stage, maybe a few weeks or a couple of months. The process of mating can actually be a bit aggressive sounding to most. The females will travel to the territory of the males to pick out the perfect mate. The dragonflies can go on to mate a few more times before dying.

Some females will even fake their own death in order to avoid mating. The point of this act is to avoid mating with an overly aggressive male. Female moorland hawkers are one species of dragonflies where you will see this, as this species can sometimes get injured or even risk death when mating. Some species of males will try to grab the females without consent, a situation female dragonflies try to avoid.

What do dragonflies eat? 

Dragonflies are predators at every stage of their life cycle, even as larvae. They eat a variety of insects – flies, midges, and mosquitoes all fall victim. Dragonflies are even known to eat butterflies and also other dragonflies. It has quite the appetite and devours food equal to its own weight in less than half an hour.

Dragonflies don’t wait and swoop down to catch their prey – they are quite the eager insect. Their swiftness in the sky allows them to grab their food in the middle of the air. It will use its long legs to snatch some unsuspecting bugs, where they will be taken to a perch to be eaten.

Can dragonflies fly in many directions? 

Dragonflies can be considered the sentries of the skies. They are an insect that has some of the most versatile flight paths in their kingdom. As mid-air acrobats – they can fly up, down, side-to-side, loop-the-loop – and they can even fly backward. Dragonflies can also hover over one location and are able to completely turn within their own body length.

The insects have four wings that can flap rapidly, and they can move them back and forth on an axis. They are able to move the angle of their front and back wings at different angles permitting great maneuverability. They are also quick, moving at 100 body lengths per second.

Do dragonflies glow in the dark?

There’s a lot of misconceptions about the nocturnal activities of dragonflies – mainly, they tend to be mixed up with fireflies. Dragonflies do not glow in the dark or emanate any kind of light – but fireflies do. The dragonflies are rarely active at night as they tend to roost in their nests. However, they have been known to gather around light sources at night – where they consider it to be daytime.

Can dragonflies hear? 

Dragonflies do not have ears and do not hear in the sense that people do. They can sense vibrations, however, with their antennae so providing them awareness. They do not really vocalize. This means they are not able to make any sounds with their mouths.

Do dragonflies have good eyesight? 

Dragonflies have an excellent all-around vision, which makes them some of the best hunters in the insect world. They are able to focus on distant prey better than any other insect. The eyes of dragonflies take up nearly their entire head. That gives them a massive field of view. They can focus their vision in all directions simultaneously, so they don’t miss a moment of what’s happening around them.

It’s estimated that a dragonfly’s lucrative vision allows them to be over 95% effective at hunting. The insects can watch the skies at all angles and quickly snatch their prey right out of the air. The agile vision keeps them alert and stops them from colliding with other dragonflies.

Do dragonflies have fur? 

Dragonflies can look a bit furry, considering they have long, stiff hairs exuding from their legs. However, the insects do not have any fur. The body make-up of a dragonfly includes a lengthy and slender frame built with exoskeleton plates. There are many segments on the abdomen of the dragonfly, but none of which contain fur.

A point of interest is that when a dragonfly is in its larvae form it can appear to have greenish fur – in reality, it is just algae covering them.

Do dragonflies kill wasps and bees?

Dragonflies are predators with an extensive diet and will kill wasps and bees. Their natural hunting ground is marshes, lakes, ponds, streams, and wetlands. While bees and wasps aren’t usually around these areas, should they venture to the locale, a dragonfly would not be afraid to snap them up for a meal.

Can dragonflies swim?

Should an adult dragonfly fall in the water, it would have trouble pulling itself out. The insects are excellent in the sky, but should they fall into a lake, pool, or another body of water – they cannot swim. The dragonfly will float as it is light in weight, but liquid weighs down its delicate wings, so it struggles to move out.

Dragonflies in their nymph stage, however, are a different story. The newborn insects are raised around the water – and as they haven’t developed wings yet, they can swim around the water. They feed on aquatic insects and tadpoles and minnows – so the ability to swim is a must.

Do dragonflies make nests?

Dragonflies don’t build nests in the traditional sense as birds or other insects do. You won’t find swarms of dragonflies gathering materials to construct homes for themselves or find any distinguishable looking homes that can identify them. They do have natural habitats that serve as their homes, however.

Dragonflies spend most of their lives around a body of water for their feeding habits. Therefore, females will lay their eggs in or around water. Habitats for the insects are usually marshes and ponds, where the local plants shelter dragonflies to serve as their home. They will retire here when they are not active or laying eggs.

How long do dragonflies live?

The dragonfly life cycle is quite extensive compared to other insects. From egg to adulthood to death – dragonflies can live up to 6 or 7 months. Most of the dragonflies’ life is spent in larvae form. It will reside in the water catching other insects, growing for about 3 months. It will then spent the rest of its existence as an adult – carrying on for about 3 more months before it perishes. A female can lay about 1500 eggs in this time.

Do dragonflies pollinate?

Dragonflies do not pollinate as they do not feed on nectar. The insects are still considered very beneficial to the ecosystem, however. As they are a predator with a vast diet, they benefit the environment by eating pests such as mosquitoes, ants, and termites at every stage of their lives. People will sometimes set up ideal habitats for dragonflies in their back gardens to keep pests away from their homes. Dragonfles also eat plague-carrying mosquitoes.

Do dragonflies swarm?

Dragonflies can swarm in migratory patterns for food. They don’t have a pack mentality and are not inclined to follow a leader – but the natural course of weather and the breeding season pulls dragonflies together in droves. You may see them in a migration pattern moving to warmer climates in very large numbers.

Do dragonflies breathe?

Depending on the stage of their life cycle they breathe differently. Adult dragonflies will breathe in air through their abdomen. There are little holes called spiracles that take in the air and divert them to tubes called imago that deliver the air throughout its body.

Dragonflies in their larvae form have a very different way of breathing. As they are in the water, they take in air through gills on their anus – which they also use to expel water. This action propels the nymph through the water.

Are dragonflies beneficial for the garden?

Dragonflies are quite beneficial for your garden as they serve as excellent pest control mechanisms. Their diet of insects also includes those that are considered pests and harmful to humans. The dragonflies will feed on these, keeping them at bay. They are also wonderfully colorful – looking very pretty, flying around the water areas of your garden.