Montana Public Radio

Bug Bytes: Dragonflies

Feb 5, 2019

Beware the dragonfly – This is great advice if you are just about any other flying insect, because dragonflies are incredible predators that rule the buggy skies.

They are considered some of the best hunters in the insect world. Thanks to a combination of amazing eyesight and maneuverability, they catch whatever prey they set their sights on 95 percent of the time.

Dragonflies have large compound eyes that cover most of their head – almost like a helmet, giving them a 360-degree view of their surroundings. So a dragonfly can see you when it is flying toward you and it can see you when it has passed and is flying away.

Dragonflies can see in ultra-multicolor – better than anything else in the animal world. Studies have shown that some dragonflies can see using a combination of up to 30 different colors, allowing them to see colors that are beyond human visual capabilities. We only see in tri-chromatic vision, seeing colors as a combination of red, blue and green.

Their super-sensitive eyes even allow them to detect the speed of their prey by light detection.

If that weren’t enough, dragonflies are amazing fliers. Separate muscles control each of their four wings, allowing each wing to operate independently. A dragonfly can hover, fly forwards, backward, sideways and instantly change direction. They can even fly upside down if they needed to.

They are also fast. Some species can reach 30 miles per hour. So next time you see a dragonfly pass by, pay homage to what may be the best aerial predator ever.

BugBytes is made possible by the Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium, and Montana Public Radio. This show is also supported by funding from the Greater Montana Foundation: Encouraging communication on issues, trends and values of importance to Montanans.