Today’s Factismal: Dragonflies are the fastest flying insects; one was recorded moving at 60 mph!
The dragonfly is a graceful little critter with a weird lifestyle. As adults, they have long, narrow bodies with two sets of transparent wings and bulbous compound eyes. They are predators, and their bodies are shaped for speed and maneuverability; dragonflies are famed for their ability to flit upwards, downwards, forward, back, and side to side with ease. They are also the fastest known flying insects. When just flitting about, they average 10 mph, but can speed along at up to 30 mph for short bursts. And one dragonfly was even recorded going 60 mph for the length of a field!
But their speed and grace in the air is actually a fairly minor part of their life story. They start as eggs laid on a submerged reed or other water plant. Once the eggs hatch, the dragonfly nymphs begin to swim about, feasting on mosquito larvae and other goodies. The dragonfly nymphs absorb oxygen from the water using gills that are conveniently placed in their butts; they also have a form of jet propulsion that uses water jets from their butts to speed them away from things that think they might be tasty. After a period lasting from two months (for the smaller dragonflies) to five years (for the big ones), the nymph climbs out of the water and molts its skin, becoming a full-fledged adult complete with wings.
There are more than 5600 different species of these lovely little creatures which are found on every continent except Antarctica. If you’d like to help scientists track them, then head on over to Odonata Central. The entomologists at Texas A&M are trying to discover exactly where each species lives, and your field reports can help them do that.