The Bizarre, Sordid Secrets of Dragonflies You Will Wish You Had Never Learned

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Feeling amorous, a male dragonfly grabs a female by the head.

I’ve always enjoyed it when dragonflies visited the garden, but I realized I didn’t know much about them.

I knew that dragonflies had finely tuned, 360-degree vision, because I knew how hard it was to get close enough to them for a photo.  I knew they were territorial, because one of them took ownership of the tip of our car antenna for about a week whenever it was parked in the driveway.  I’d seen photos of their Jurassic Period fossils, and I marveled at accounts of their ancestors with their 3-foot wingspans.  But that’s about all I’d learned about dragonflies, and so recently I went about filling in the gaps of my knowledge.

What I found was a world so weird and disturbing, I have to wonder if maybe ignorance is bliss.  The weirdness begins when they are immature nymphs, living underwater (you have been forewarned):

Weird Facts about Dragonfly Nymphs

  • They breathe through gills in their rectum.
  • They propel themselves by shooting water out of their anuses.
  • To prevent contamination of their own water supply, their fecal matter comes out neatly pre-packaged in a membrane.
  • Some species of nymphs can fire these poop-pellets a distance of 20 feet (no one knows why this would be of benefit).
  • When threatened, some nymphs will play dead.
  • They are cannibals, as are the adults.
  • If they lose a leg, they can sprout a new one on the next molt.

The adults are no less bizarre:

Weird Facts about Dragonfly Adults

  • Males have two sex organs.  Before mating, they move the sperm from one to the other—from the tip of the abdomen to the mid-section.
  • When ready to mate, the male grabs the female by the head, and they fly in tandem.  Sometimes he accidentally scratches her or pokes a hole in her head doing this, though she will usually survive such trauma.
  • Before mating, the male will try to scoop out from the female the sperm of any other males that may have beaten him to the punch.
  • When mating actually begins, the male and female are linked in a “copulation wheel” that loosely resembles a heart shape.  (Awwww.)
  • To regulate their body temperature, some dragonflies can change color.
  • Some take part in migrations of hundreds or even thousands of miles.

Left with a disturbing heap of knowledge that I knew I couldn’t unlearn, I concluded that in the future, maybe I should stick with plants.


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2 Responses

  1. Cousin Kris
    Cousin Kris at | | Reply

    Of course I couldn’t resist reading this article. I have also enjoyed your plant quizzes, although I fail miserably. 🙂

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