Dragonfly Facts

Dragonfly FAQ

Here are some common questions about dragonflies:

What do dragonflies eat?
Adult dragonflies mostly eat other flying insects, particularly midges and mosquitoes. They also will take butterflies, moths and smaller dragonflies. The larvae, which live in water, eat almost any living thing smaller than themselves. Larger dragonfly larvae sometimes eat small fish or fry. Usually they eat bloodworms or other aquatic insect larvae.
What is the origin of the word "dragonfly"?
The origin of the English term "dragonfly" is believed to come from the Romanian language where the word for dragonfly translates to Devil's Horse or Devil's fly. The word drac, from the Latin draco, means "dragon" or "devil" in several languages, such as Catalan and Romanian. So the Romanian Devil's fly has become dragonfly in English!
How many kinds of dragonflies and damselflies are there?
Currently about 5000 species of dragonflies and damselflies are known; experts guess that there are probably between 5500 and 6500 species in total.
How long do they live?
Most temperate-zone species live as adults less than a month, though some species can live as long as six months.
What enemies do dragonflies and damselflies have?
Birds, spiders, frogs, larger dragonflies. In the larval stage, they are preyed on by fish, frogs, toads and newts, and other water invertebrates.
How can I tell a dragonfly from a damselfly?
Damselflies are usually slim, their forewings and hindwings narrow at the base and have similar shapes, and their eyes are widely separated. Most species hold their wings above the abdomen when they are resting. Dragonflies are larger. Their eyes touch near the top of their head. The wings do not narrow at the base; the forewings and hindwings differ in shape. When they are resting, the wings are usually spread.
What are the biggest dragonfly and damselfly?
The Megaloprepus coerulatus damselfly of Central America has a wingspan up to 19 cm. The bulkiest known dragonfly is Petalura ingentissima from Australia, with a wingspan up to 16 cm. Extinct fossil dragonflies with wingspans up to 70-75 cm have been identified.
What is the smallest dragonfly?
Several dragonflies in the genus Agriocnemis have a wingspan of just 17-18 mm. (7/10 inch).
How fast can a dragonfly fly?
It is estimated that the top speed for a dragonfly is between 36 and 54 km/h (22 to 34 m.p.h.). The maximum speed varies a lot between different species, with bigger dragonflies generally flying faster than smaller ones. Read more about dragonfly flight >
How fast do they beat their wings?
Not fast, about 30 times per second (compared to bees, for example, at 300 beats per second). However, dragonflies have two sets of wings, so they don't have to beat them so fast.
How strong are their eyes?
A dragonfly can see all the way around itself, because its eyes have about 30,000 lenses. However, the human eye with only one lense can see more sharply, though only front and sides.
How long have dragonflies been around?
About 300 million years. Huge dragonflies, with wing spans up to 30 inches, were flying when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Where do dragonflies live?
Dragonflies start their life in water, therefore they are often found near water: ponds, lakes, canals, streams, rivers and swamps. Some dragonflies with a short larvae cycle (a few weeks) also can live in rain puddles. Since dragonflies are very good flyers they can sometimes be found a very long way from water.
Do dragonflies bite?
The quick, rational answer to this question is NO, don't worry about it. Just appreciate how many mosquitoes they eat for us! Dragonflies do not have teeth - they use their very strong mandibles to eat their prey. To the insect world, they are considered verocious predators, but most species would not be able to break through human skin. Dragonflies are not aggressive towards humans. Just like any other animal, if they feel you are trying to harm them, they may use their mandibles to try to stop you. So if a dragonfly lands on you, consider yourself lucky and just stay still while enjoying the close interaction which will inevitably be short-lived.
Do dragonflies sting?
Dragonflies do not have stingers; females have tiny clasps at the ends of their abdomens used in the egg-laying process. They act like tiny little blades that she uses to incise an opening in plant material in which she'll insert her eggs. Therefore, they do not sting. However, researchers have seen that dragonflies who have been interupted during their egg-laying, continued their process into the clothing or skin of the handlers due to mistaken identity. So it is possible for a female to mistake your leg for some nice plant materials, but this is very rare.
Do dragonflies migrate?
Some, such as the green darner in New Jersey migrate short distances - averaging about 7-1/2 miles per day, and generally moving every third day. On the other hand, the globe skinner migrates the farthest of any insect, about 11,000 miles across the Indian Ocean.
Where can I buy books, field guides, and other information about dragonflies and damselflies?
Check out our online shopping guide.
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