Trying to catch a dragonfly is pretty hit and miss, with emphasis on the miss. It ‘s difficult to sneak up on one as they are designed to be alert, quick, and elusive. Dragonflies have all the usual insect body parts: three pairs of legs; three body parts, including head, thorax, and abdomen; antennae; and two pairs of wings.
But they have added physical features that enhance their survival rate as prey and their success rate as predator, including two compound eyes and three simple eyes. The compound eyes are relatively huge, forming the largest component of the head. Depending on the species, the two compound eyes may abut each other, forming a seam down the middle, and/or may bulge out the sides of the head. This provides the insect with almost complete surrounding vision. The head is capable of swiveling on its base through a wide range of motion, again allowing the dragonfly to see any approaching threat or treat. In addition, their four wings operate independently allowing the insect to fly forward and backward, hover and glide, all in rapid succession.
All this is not designed to protect the adult dragonfly from me and my bug net, but to protect them from their real predators: birds, spiders, frogs and fish, while making them formidable hunters. Their prey includes mosquitoes, black flies, horse flies and butterflies. Dragonflies hunt only on the wing. Their long, spindly legs are of no use for walking, only clasping onto a perch. The legs have a row of long spurs running down the length. When hunting, the dragonfly joins the tips of its feet together to form a net of its six legs. It then flies up to its prey and scoops it into this net. It then uses its strong jaws to shred its catch. Dragonflies are of the order “odonata” from the Greek for tooth. Speaking of teeth, contrary to popular belief, dragonflies do not actually bite people.
So, where are some good places to go looking for these fascinating aerial hunters? There are three factors to consider: adequate food source - so look for a place where there are lots of other insects to begin with; lots of vegetation for perching – so an area of tall grasses or reeds would be suitable; and because the dragonfly spends its larval stage completely underwater, there is a good chance of seeing an adult near a river, pond or swamp.
If you are quick enough to catch a dragonfly, or fortunate enough to have one land on your hand, take a close look at its amazing adaptations and then watch it in action when you let it go.