5 things you never knew about dragonflies

5 things you never knew about dragonflies

They're beautiful and intriguing, but these ferocious predators have sharp mandibles, near-360-degree vision and can fly backward.
Arriving on the scene around 300 million years ago, dragonflies were one of the first insects to inhabit this planet. They've had a long time to perfect the art of flying, hunting and just being amazing. Here are seven facts that will change the way you look at these unique, ancient and incredibly varied insects.
Dragonflies can intercept prey mid-air
Dragonflies are flat out terrifying if you're a gnat, mosquito or other small bug. They don't simply chase down their prey. Instead, they snag them from the air with calculated aerial ambushes. Dragonflies can judge the speed and trajectory of a prey target and adjust their flight to intercept prey. They're so skilled that they have up to a 95 percent success rate when hunting.

Dragonflies have incredibly sharp mandibles

One research team has determined that the nervous system of a dragonfly displays an almost human capacity for selective attention, able to focus on a single prey as it flies amid a cloud of similarly fluttering insects, just as a guest at a party can attend to a friend's words while ignoring the background chatter. Other researchers have identified a kind of master circuit of 16 neurons that connect the dragonfly's brain to its flight motor center in the thorax. With the aid of that neuronal package, a dragonfly can track a moving target, calculate a trajectory to intercept that target and subtly adjust its path as needed ... As a rule, the hunted remains clueless until it's all over.
Basically, think "stealth fighter jet" when it comes to a dragonfly's ability to nab prey in flight 
quickly, effectively and intelligently.
Their hunting strategy is impressive, but dragonflies' ability to rip apart prey takes their predatory prowess to another level.

Dragonflies and damselflies are in the order Odonata, meaning "toothed ones." The reason for the title is their serrated mandibles. When hunting, dragonflies catch prey with their feet, tear off the prey's wings with their sharp jaws so it can't escape, and scarf the sorry bug down, all without needing to land.

Thankfully, dragonflies can't bite humans. The vast majority of species don't have mandibles strong enough to break the skin. Only a small handful of large species are capable of actually biting, but this only occurs as a defensive strategy. So there's no need to worry when you're walking around a dragonfly sanctuary (more on these below!).

Dragonflies are freaky fliers

There are few species in the animal kingdom that can match the dragonfly for spectacular flying ability. Dragonflies have two sets of wings with muscles in the thorax that can work each wing independently. This allows them to change the angle of each wing and practice superior agility in the air.

Dragonflies can fly in any direction, including sideways and backward, and can hover in a single spot for a minute or more. This amazing ability is one factor in their success as aerial ambush predators — they can move in on unsuspecting prey from any direction.

Not only are they agile, but they're fast, with some species reaching a top speed of 18 miles per hour. They're also known for their feats of endurance. One species called the globe skimmer, Pantala flavescens, flies across an ocean during migration, logging 11,000 miles and snagging the title of world's longest insect migration.

Between the speed, distance and flexibility when hunting, dragonflies are one of the most exceptional fliers on the planet.
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