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Brief Summary

    Brief Summary
    provided by EOL authors
    Meganeura was a giant Odonata (carnivorous insects, mainly dragonflies and damselflies) that roamed the skies of the oxygen-rich Carboniferous. With a massive 30 centimeter wingspan (Sánchez-Herrera & Ware 2012), Meganeura was more than 4.5 times the size of an average dragonfly. In appearance, it would have looked very similar to modern dragonflies, and, like them,was an insectivore (insect eating carnivore).

Morphology

    Morphology
    provided by EOL authors

    With a wingspan of over 30 centimeters long, Meganeura was the largest flying insect of its time (Sánchez-Herrera & Ware 2012). It probably appeared very similar to extant (still alive) dragonflies, though more than 4.5 times the size of the average dragonfly. Its body had a long slender abdomen and large round eyes. An accurate description of Meganeura's body is hard to come by; the fossil specimens are typically incomplete (Carpenter 1943). It is likely that Meganeura was colorful like modern dragonflies. Its wing morphology suggests that Meganeura was just as fast as modern dragonflies, though its gigantean size implies that it was less agile (Sánchez-Herrera & Ware 2012). Like modern dragonflies, it had two sets of wings: hind wings and fore wings. Its wings were laced with veins, which bring nerves and vital nutrients to the wing. The area around the veins usually strengthens, adding structure and rigor to the wing and increasing flight ability.

Habitat

    Environment
    provided by EOL authors
    During the Carboniferous the atmosphere had extremely high oxygen levels, allowing trees, tree-like vegetation, and other plants to grow to gigantean sizes and created massive forests (Lockley & Meyer 2000). These forests would have looked drastically different from the ones in existence today, as angiosperms (flowering plants) had yet to evolve. The high oxygen levels gave insects the opportunity to increase in size as well, resulting in the massive centipede-like organisms of Arthropleura (Lockley & Meyer 2000) and the giant dragonflies of Meganeura. These forests were also the home of Hylonomus, the first reptile. Most specimens of Meganeura have been found in the Commentry Shale in France. This shale is thought to have originally been a large freshwater lake, indicating that Meganeura lived near freshwater (Carpenter 1943). This suggests that Meganeura, like modern Odonata (carnivorous insects, mainly dragonflies and damselflies), had juvenile states that were aquatic (water living).

Behavior

    Diet and Behavior
    provided by EOL authors
    The oxygen rich atmosphere of the Carboniferous led to massive growth in vegetation and insect size. It is during this time that many different insect groups increased their size greatly. Meganeura was one that grew enormous. It was an insectivore (predator that eats insects), like its Odonata (carnivorous insects, mainly dragonflies and damselflies) relatives (Sánchez-Herrera & Ware 2012).
    It is thought that Meganeura behaved similarly to other Odonata in terms of its reproductive and feeding strategies. Odonata lives in freshwater areas and acts as the top insect predator of its ecosystems (Sánchez-Herrera & Ware 2012). Members of Odonata reproduce in a 'copulation wheel,' in which the male and female are intertwined together in a circle. The male uses clasper-like structures to hold the female's head while the female twists her long abdomen forward to attach to the male's body. This method of reproduction is unique to Odonata (Corbet 2003).