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Overview

Brief Summary

Dragonflies and damselflies are charismatic insects that have captured the imagination of naturalists and artists across cultures.  Juveniles are voracious underwater predators, feeding mostly on other aquatic insects. Nymphs of larger dragonflies also prey on tadpoles and small fishes. The winged adults are fierce aerial hunters with large eyes. They are often seen chasing after small flying insects near bodies of water.

Odonate females lay their eggs in water or aquatic vegetation, and matings usually occur near the breeding habitat.  Many people have observed the peculiar mating postures of dragonflies and damselflies. The male initiates the tandem posture by grasping the female's head or thorax with a pair of appendages at the tip of his abdomen.  The female then bends her abdomen forward to collect sperm from the male penis which is located on the underside of his second abdominal segment.  This results in the copulation wheel posture where the bodies of the mating pair are linked in a circular shape.  Immediately after copulation, the female will usually start laying eggs, and odonate males often guard their mates by remaining in tandem posture during the oviposition bout.

The external genitalia of odonate males are unique among insects.  As in most insects, the seminal fluid leaves the male body through a genital opening near the tip of the abdomen, on the 9th abdominal segment.  But in dragonflies and damselflies, the copulatory organ is located near the front of the abdomen, far away from the site of sperm production.  So before each mating, the male has to transfer his sperm to the penis near the front of his abdomen.

  • Borror, D. J., C. A. Triplehorn, and N. F. Johnson. 1989. An Introduction to the Study of Insects. Sixth Edition. Saunders College Publishing, Philadelphia.
  • Tennessen, K. J. 2009. Ephemeroptera (Mayflies). Pages 721-729 in Encyclopedia of Insects, V. H. Resh and R. T. Cardé, eds. Academic Press, New York.
  • Grimaldi, D. and M. S. Engel. 2005. Evolution of Insects. Cambridge University Press, New York.
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Dragonflies are large predator insects with a long hind body (abdomen) and large composite eyes. They are excellent fliers. A dragonfly fly makes a rustling sound when in flight. The densely veined wings are sturdy, the back wings being broader than the front wings. Large dragonflies can easily cross over to the Wadden Sea and are sometimes seen on the islands in massive numbers. The larvae live in fresh water. They are true predators, just like their parents. They eat mainly aquatic insects. Some species can live for years in water as larva. Adults don't live more than several months. Damselflies resemble dragonflies but are thinner with four equal wings. They are not such good flyers.
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Distribution

Odonata Distribution

Dragonflies and Damselflies can be found throughout the world.  Order Odonata consists of 28 families and more than 5, 500 species are known.  11 Families have been seen in North America, along with 440 species.

  • Capinera, John. "Dragonflies and Damselflies (Odonata)." Encyclopedia of Entomology. 4. 2008.
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Ecology

Associations

Animal / parasite / endoparasite
cyst of Gorgoderina vitelliloba endoparasitises adult of Odonata

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Known predators

Odonata (Odonata 3 families 12 spp.) is prey of:
Coleoptera
Diptera
Hemiptera
Nematocera imagines
Dytiscus
Salvelinus fontinalis
Notropis cornutus
Melanerpes portoricensis
Todus mexicanus
Anolis gundlachi
Myiarchus antillarum
Seiurus motacilla

Based on studies in:
USA: Florida, South Florida (Swamp)
Russia (Agricultural)
Puerto Rico, El Verde (Rainforest)
USA: Michigan (Lake or pond)
Canada: Ontario (River)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • L. D. Harris and G. B. Bowman, Vertebrate predator subsystem. In: Grasslands, Systems Analysis and Man, A. I. Breymeyer and G. M. Van Dyne, Eds. (International Biological Programme Series, no. 19, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, England, 1980), pp. 591-
  • N. N. Smirnov, Food cycles in sphagnous bogs, Hydrobiologia 17:175-182, from p. 179 (1961).
  • H. M. Wilbur, Competition, predation, and the structure of the Ambystoma-Rana sylvatica community, Ecology 53:3-21, from p. 14 (1972).
  • W. E. Ricker, 1934. An ecological classification of certain Ontario streams. Univ. Toronto Studies, Biol. Serv. 37, Publ. Ontario Fish. Res. Lab. 49:7-114, from pp. 105-106.
  • Waide RB, Reagan WB (eds) (1996) The food web of a tropical rainforest. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
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Known prey organisms

Odonata (Odonata 3 families 12 spp.) preys on:
Copepoda
Cladocera
Psectrocladius
Rotifera
Chironomidae
Daphnia pulex
Hemiptera
Coleoptera
Diptera
Auchenorrhyncha
Sternorrhyncha
Lepidoptera
Leptophlebiidae
Trichoptera

Based on studies in:
USA: Florida, South Florida (Swamp)
Russia (Agricultural)
USA: Michigan (Lake or pond)
Puerto Rico, El Verde (Rainforest)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • L. D. Harris and G. B. Bowman, Vertebrate predator subsystem. In: Grasslands, Systems Analysis and Man, A. I. Breymeyer and G. M. Van Dyne, Eds. (International Biological Programme Series, no. 19, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, England, 1980), pp. 591-
  • N. N. Smirnov, Food cycles in sphagnous bogs, Hydrobiologia 17:175-182, from p. 179 (1961).
  • H. M. Wilbur, Competition, predation, and the structure of the Ambystoma-Rana sylvatica community, Ecology 53:3-21, from p. 14 (1972).
  • Waide RB, Reagan WB (eds) (1996) The food web of a tropical rainforest. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
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Evolution and Systematics

Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Wing structure allows rapid acceleration: dragonfly
 

The wings of a dragonfly help it accelerate rapidly due to their asynchronous operation.

   
  "Dragonflies flap and pitch their wings at a rate of about 40 Hz, creating whirlwinds as illustrated in figure 2. A peculiarity of the dragonfly is its use of a rowing motion along an inclined stroke plane. During hovering, the body lies almost horizontal. The wings push backward and downward, and at the end of the stroke, feather and slice upward and forward. In contrast, many other hovering insects use a symmetrical back-and-forth stroke near a horizontal stroke plane. The dragonfly’s asymmetric rowing motion allows it to support much of its weight by the upward drag created during the downstroke; for the more common symmetric motion, the drag roughly cancels.

"The dragonfly belongs to Odonata, one of the most ancient of insect orders. Its fore and hind wings are controlled by separate muscles, and a distinctive feature of the dragonfly’s wing movement is the phase relation between those wings during various maneuvers. When hovering, the fore and hind wings tend to beat out of phase; during takeoff, they tend to beat closer in phase. Why does a dragonfly vary the phase in different maneuvers? One plausible explanation is that alternating the downstroke reduces body oscillation. That is, however, only part of the story. The fore and hind wings are about a wing-width apart—close enough for them to interact hydrodynamically. To determine the amount of interaction, one solves the Navier–Stokes flow equations with boundary conditions set by the movement of the wings. The resulting flows are spectacular and complex. They depend on Reynolds
number, wing motion, wing shape, and phase difference.

"Despite that complexity, two general results emerge: The aerodynamic power expended is reduced when the wings move out of phase, and the force is enhanced when the wings move in phase. When the fore and hind wings beat out of phase, they approach each other from opposite sides and cross near the midstroke. The fore wings experience an induced flow due to the hind wings, and vice versa. As a consequence, the drag on the wings is reduced, as is the power expended in flapping. But the reduction in drag on the two types of wing points in opposite directions, so the net force is essentially unaffected. In other words, the counterstroking allows the dragonfly to generate nearly the same force while saving aerodynamic power. If, instead, the fore and hind wings beat in phase, they will experience a higher drag due to the induced flow. In this case the increase in drag on all the wings points in the same direction. Thus the hydrodynamic interaction results in a greater net force that can be used to accelerate as needed during takeoff. The cost is greater power expenditure." (Wang 2008:74)


  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Wang ZJ. 2008. Dragonfly flight. Physics Today [Internet],
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Functional adaptation

Tail used for reproductive advantage: damselfly
 

Extensions on the tails of some dragonflies provide a reproductive advantage by cleaning out the sperm of competitors from their chosen mate prior to depositing their own sperm.

       
  "Female dragonflies do not mate again after fertilization. However, this does not create any problem for the males of the Calopteryx virgo species [a damselfly]. By using the hooks on its tail, the male captures the female by the neck. The female wraps her legs around the tail of the male. The male, by using special extensions on its tail, cleans any possible sperm left from another male." (Yahya 2002:24)

"During copulation, males [of the Calopterygidae family] carry out a series of abdominal movements that are associated with the manipulation of the female's stored sperm. Male calopterygids invariably displace sperm from the bursa (Waage 1979, 1988; Siva-Jothy and Tsubaki 1989; Siva-Jothy and Hooper 1995; Lindeboom 1998; Córdoba-Aguilar 1999b); however, they differ in the ability to displace spermathecal sperm. In those species in which males displace spermathecal sperm, two mechanisms have been described: sperm removal (e.g., Waage 1979) and sperm ejection via sensory stimulation (Córdoba-Aguilar 1999b). During sperm removal, the two male lateral appendages (fig. la) have physical access to the spermathecal ducts (fig. 1b), allowing the mechanical displacement of the stored sperm masses (Waage 1979). During sperm displacement via sensory stimulation, the aedeagus stimulates a series of mechanoreceptive sensilla (fig. 1b) that are embedded in two vaginal plates (Córdoba-Aguilar 1999b)...In C. virgo, males have access to spermathecal sperm previous to sperm transfer. The mechanism used in this species seems to be physical and mediated by the lateral appendages." (Córdoba-Aguilar 2002:595-596, 599)


  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Harun Yahya. 2002. Design in Nature. London: Ta-Ha Publishers Ltd. 180 p.
  • Córdoba‐Aguilar, A. 2002. Sensory trap as the mechanism of sexual selection in a damselfly genitalic trait (Insecta: Calopterygidae). American Naturalist. 160(5): 594-601.
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Functional adaptation

Pigment granules create colors: damselflies
 

The bodies of damselflies have brilliant metallic colors derived from structural arrangement of pigment granules.

     
  "The brilliant metallic colours of many Odonata, especially damselflies, derive from the structural arrangement of pigment granules. Pigment in the wings of such species as Agrion virgo is similarly distorted by light to produce resplendent shifting effects of green-blue-purple. In some male dragonflies, as Libellulids, the pale Cambridge blue of the abdomen has a distinctive structural cause since it initially derives from a fine powdery exudation of the epidermal cells, producing an effect like the bloom on a plum: the granules are so small and regularly arranged that they reflect only the pale blue part of the light spectrum and, indeed, often appear almost white." (Wootton 1984:140)

"The appearance, fine structure and pigment composition of the epidermal chromatophores of mature Austrolestes annulosus (Lestidae) are described and compared with the developing chromatophores of teneral Austrolestes and the mature chromatophores of Diphlebia lestoides (Amphipterygidae) and Ischnura heterosticta  (Caenagrionidae). Mature chromatophores contain masses of near  spherical light-scattering bodies and larger irregularly shaped pigment  vesicles. These effect colour change by migrating in opposite  directions, through a system of interconnecting granular endoplasmic  reticulum tubules. The pigment, a mixture of xanthommatin and  dihydroxanthommatin, has a liquid or gelatinous consistency. Developing  chromatophores of teneral insects lack light-scattering bodies and  well-defined migratory pigment vesicles, but contain irregular masses of  pigment of similar chemical composition." (Vernon et al. 1974:613)

  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Wootton, A. 1984. Insects of the World. Blandford. 224 p.
  • Veron JEN; O'Farrell AF; Dixon B. 1974. The fine structure of odonata chromatophores. Tissue and Cell. 6(4): 613-615, 617-626.
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Functional adaptation

Eyes see 300 images per second: dragonfly
 

The eyes of dragonflies sense motion well due to high flicker-fusion frequency.

   
  "Although insects cannot see as sharply as we can, they compensate by being better at sensing motion. The rate at which the eye can distinguish separate static images before they fuse to create the illusion of continuous movement is called the flicker-fusion frequency. Our eyes can see around 50 images per second in good light, less in dim conditions. That's why movies appear to move even though they are really a series of separate frames. With a flicker-fusion frequency six times faster than ours, dragonflies see 300 images per second, so they would see a movie for what it truly is - a slide show made up of a sequence of static images." (Shuker 2001:14-15)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Shuker, KPN. 2001. The Hidden Powers of Animals: Uncovering the Secrets of Nature. London: Marshall Editions Ltd. 240 p.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
Specimen Records: 13289
Specimens with Sequences: 10479
Specimens with Barcodes: 7413
Species: 1566
Species With Barcodes: 1229
Public Records: 8711
Public Species: 754
Public BINs: 960
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Barcode data

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