In Flight

The dragonfly that you see flitting over fields looks different from its nymph form. The male dragonfly’s black body is about 70 millimeters (2.8 inches) long. It is dotted with dashes of apple green and turquoise. Its bright colors are designed to attract a mate. Its
two sets of wings stretch out
110 millimeters (4.3 inches) from its body.

This male southern hawker dragonfly is in flight.

An adult southern hawker's eyes have thousands of lenses.

In the insect world, the dragonfly’s sight is unmatched. Its two compound eyes are made up of thousands of individual lenses. The front of each eye focuses on forward flight. The top of each eye searches for prey.

Dragonflies also have three simple eyes. Each has a single lens. These eyes form a triangle between the compound eyes. Nerves connect them to the dragonfly’s flight muscles. They give information about the dragonfly’s position relative to its prey.

The southern hawker uses its two sets of wings to fly forward, backward, or sideways. It can beat its wings together or move each one separately. To fly, the wings twist in a figure-eight motion. It can fly up to 54 kilometers (34 miles) an hour.

Dragonflies have six legs, but most cannot walk.

This southern hawker is on the hunt for flying insects.

Focused Hunter

When the southern hawker hunts, it becomes a deadly predator. Its success rate is about 95 percent.

Its prey is caught and eaten “on the wing.” That means, it is caught while the dragonfly is in flight. The ability to catch prey while flying at top speeds is a complicated process.

The dragonfly has to be able to predict where its prey will be. It must figure out the distance, the direction, and the speed of its prey. In milliseconds, the dragonfly plots its course.

The dragonfly holds its legs forward. The long spines on its legs grip the prey. Then the dragonfly bites off and discards the prey’s wings before eating its body.

Eating and mating are an adult southern hawker’s only two jobs. Within two months, the adults die. Their eggs are waiting, though, for the life cycle to begin again.

Females lay their eggs in the water.