The fearsome feeding behavior of dragonflies demonstrates their skill and efficiency as predators. Beautiful as they are, dragonflies mean business when it comes to hunting for food. They capture an amazing 95% of their intended prey! For comparison, sharks and lions capture 50% and 25% of their prey, respectively, far short of the dragonfly's hunting ability.
Dragonflies are literally built for catching and killing their next meal.
Dragonflies have perfected the art of eating on the run, or more precisely eating while in flight! They are able to track their moving prey (e.g., mosquitoes, flies) and intercept it while flying. Their high capture rate is related to their ability to determine where their prey will be when they catch up to it. In the span of milliseconds, dragonflies need to calculate the distance of their prey, the direction that their prey is moving, and the speed that their prey is flying. With that information, the dragonfly determines the best approach angle to catch their meal. Because of the way that their wings work, dragonflies can fly in any direction and can change direction instantly. (Click here to find out more about dragonfly flight.)
A dragonfly's ability to fly is matched by its ability to see. Like most insects, dragonflies have multifaceted eyes. With 30,000 individual facets, dragonflies have significantly more facets than any other insect (e.g., house flies have 6,000). Each facet creates its own image and the 30,000 images are compiled into one image. This allows dragonflies to have a 360-degree view of their environment without any blind spots.
To make their vision powers even more remarkable, dragonflies can see the normal color spectrum (red, green, blue), as well as UV light and the polarized light waves. The ability to see polarized light waves helps them to reduce the impact of sun glare on their vision; this is similar to the effect we have when wearing polarized sunglasses.
Put another check in the incredible column! Dragonflies can track and isolate their prey in a swarm. They have the ability to shift from one object to another, keeping track of where each potential prey is positioned in a swarm. When a dragonfly singles out one target, it is able to capture it without colliding with another member of the swarm.
Dragonflies are voracious eaters and their preferred prey are mosquitoes and small flies. Each dragonfly can consume up to 100s of mosquitoes per day! They will also eat bees, butterflies, and even other dragonflies.
What happens at the moment a dragonfly intercepts its prey? It is not pretty! Smaller insects like mosquitoes are caught directly by the mouth. Larger insects, like flies, are first trapped by a dragonfly's front legs. Once trapped, the dragonfly will use its powerful serrated jaws (mandibles) to clamp down and shred the wings of the prey, thereby immobilizing it. The dragonfly, with its hinged jaws that can open as wide as its head, is then able to consume the rest of its meal.
Dragonflies are fitting members of the Odonata order. The name Odonata, derives from the Greek "odonto", meaning tooth, and refers to the strong teeth found on the jaws of most adults. We are sure that after learning about the feeding behavior of dragonflies, you will agree that their scientific classification is particularly appropriate!