Not as dainty as we look

Butterfly Cycle? Lame. Dragonfly Cycle? Now We’re Talking.

Kids are always taught the butterfly cycle, but I have a unique cycle that isn’t mentioned in schools. Mine starts when my mother lays eggs on a plant safely at the surface of water. We prefer the water to be shallow, unpolluted, and fresh. Ponds are the best fit for dragonflies.

Unfortunately, I spend most of my life in nymph stage after hatching. I’ll be the first to admit that this was an unattractive stage in my life. My eyes are creepily oversized, and I wasn’t a fan of the ugly brown color. As a larva, I live in the water of ponds while growing for several years. My gills are internal, and I must expand and contract my abdomen to move water over them. Our gills have evolved to this location so that we can push the water out at the butt, which boasts us to catch prey (Tait, 2006). The gills allow respiration to occur because oxygen diffuses through the water.

I have to wait until spring brings warm temperatures to come out and shed my nymph skin. The layer of skin I lose is called my eluvia, and I don’t miss it since I then metamorphosis into my adult years. I appreciate my thin and colorful body as an adult. In this phase, I respire as oxygen travels through tubes of my trachea system. With my beautiful wings, the two months I spend as an adult dragonfly is too short considering it’s the best part of my life.

A Growing Dragonfly Needs Protein

I may look delicate, but I’ll come right out and admit the truth. I'm a carnivore, and I love protein. Maybe you think it’s terrible I love eating unsuspecting prey, but they taste so good to me. As a nymph, tadpole, small fish, and water insects better beware; I’m coming for them. I can eat a lot of food, and I don’t ever regret it. Good thing for my Poseidon-like swimming abilities that allow me to catch up to almost anything I decide is dinner. If any prey does try to out swim me, I can shoot water from my butt for an extra boast. Then I use the hooks on my lower lip to capture prey.

Once I take my adult form, I don’t lose my skilled hunting abilities. Now I can use flight while making my legs into a basket and pick up prey. Dragonflies are categorized under Odonata because in greek this means "one with teeth." We evolved to have serrated teeth on our mandibles to help us chew. Humans should thank me, because my diet is mainly made up of those pesky mosquitoes that bother them so much. However I’m not picky, so bees, flies, and other insects also suffice. Now is when my Zeus-like flying abilities help considering I can execute quick turns, accelerate in a second, and go backwards if necessary (Wang, 2008). I can fly like this because of the way my wing structure has evolved: two pairs of wings. Don’t underestimate a dragonfly.

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I May Be Close, But I’m Not Invincible

I’ll keep this part short, because I’m pretty amazing at avoiding predators, but I guess dragonflies can have off days. To avoid being spotted by predators, dragonflies have evolved to be mainly shades of yellow and brown. This helps us to blend into our wetland environments. But still, I’ve got to hand it to ducks, toads, large fish; they can get the better of me. These are also the organisms that I compete with during nymph years for food. Part of the reason they hunt me is due to the fact that we survive off the same diet, so eating me helps their chance of getting food. Once I'm an adult dragonfly, I compete with other flying organisms. Butterflies also survive on a largely mosquito diet, so we compete a lot for mosquitos. Birds and I both eat flying insects, so they like to swoop in and caught me off guard. Sadly, sometimes we are dumb enough to get trapped in a spiderweb. Not our finer moments.

Scientists Love Us

Scientists seem to be fascinated by dragonflies, not they I blame them; we’re cool. Dr. Wiederman didn’t understand how we could target one prey amongst many. He inserted an electrode in my sister species, the Emerald dragonfly, and gave the dragonfly multiple targets while observing through an LSD screen (Wiederman, 2013). They discovered our ability to focus is based on primate-like stimuli, which gives us the ability to pay complete attention to only one prey at a time. This research displays our nervous systems are pretty complex and amazing.

The Birds and the Bees for Dragonflies

Male dragonflies are seriously overprotective about mating territory. Weak dragonflies won’t get the chance to reproduce, only dominate. Females aren’t as competitive with each other as males. Once the male initiates mating, he will attach to the female using his legs-it's not necessary for them to land, they can mate while flying. Before starting fertilization, the male uses his hamulus to remove any sperm the female might be carrying from past mates to ensure his genes are the ones passed on. After this, the male will fertilize the female, which can take from fifteen minutes to over an hour (Mead, 2013).

What Big Eyes We Have

Dragonfly eyes are enormous. They have evolved this way to allow us to be able to target prey from mid-air or across the water. Our eyes produce clearer images than most other insects and allow us to see in all almost all directions.

We Just Can't Stay Still

We like to migrate. I travel South during the fall, but then travel back North during spring. I only move long distances during the day. Humans are rather confused by my migration, and have even formed a Migratory Dragonfly Partnership (MDP) to discover the reasoning behind our migration. They like to promote the protection of wetland environments for our survival, which I appreciate.


Mead, K. (n.d.). Biology and Ecology: Dragonfly Biology 101. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.mndragonfly.org/biology.html

Wiederman, & O'Carroll. (n.d.). Selective Attention in an Insect Visual Neuron. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23260469

Breslin, S. (n.d.). Dragonflies: Nature's Most Vicious Predators. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from https://weather.com/news/news/dragonflies-vicious-predators-20130405

Tait, K. (n.d.). Evolution of Dragonflies. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~tait/evolutionofdragonflies.pdf

Wang, J. (n.d.). Wing Structure Allows Rapid Acceleration: Dragonfly. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.asknature.org/strategy/51b1ad882ccc3fce497b5ac6d493ef41