Issue Date: May 19, 2008
City: Washington, DC
The dragonfly is one of the oldest insects in the world. It first inhabited Earth up to 300 million years ago.
The dragonfly’s life cycle is unusual, with most of its life spent in a larval state in water. Then death arrives shortly after maturity. Adult females lay their eggs in or near water, often around lakes, ponds, as well as wetlands. The eggs hatch approximately two weeks later, and the immature dragonflies (nymphs) appear.
Nymphs live in the water for as long as five years, feeding on mosquito larvae and other prey. When the nymph is ready to mature into an adult, it climbs out of the water, where exposure to air causes it to breath. The nymph’s skin splits and the adult dragonfly crawls out of the larval skin.
Adults are characterized by two pairs of transparent wings, short antennae, and an elongated body. Excellent eyesight, the result of two eyes made of thousands of six-sided units, allows the dragonfly to detect even the smallest movement. Fierce jaws, from which they get their name, and spiked legs, all make the dragonfly a deadly predator of mosquitoes, gnats, and bees. This ability earns the dragonfly the nickname “mosquito hawk.”
Viewed as sinister in some cultures, dragonflies represent courage, strength, and happiness in Japan, and renewal after hardship for some Native Americans.