What’s the best hunter on the planet -- an animal that successfully snares its prey 95 percent of the time? It’s the odd-looking but strangely beautiful dragonfly. This insect is a virtual machine when it comes to gathering food, often snatching oblivious flying insects right out of the air. Dragonflies are able to hover, dive, fly backward and upside down, pivot 360 degrees, and reach speeds of 30 miles per hour (48 km/h).
These aerial gymnasts eat mosquitoes and other small insects -- flies, bees, ants, and wasps, as well as an occasional butterfly. They hunt around marshes, lakes, ponds, streams, and wetlands.
Population control in the bug world:
- One research team determined that the dragonfly's nervous system has an almost human capacity for selective attention, so it is able to focus on particular prey amidst a mass of fluttering insects.
- Other researchers say that a neural network connecting brain and motor controls helps it track moving targets, calculate a trajectory to intercept a target, and adjust its path as needed.
- “A dragonfly can be missing an entire wing and still capture prey,” says Dr. Stacey Combes, a researcher at Harvard. “Their eyes are the largest and possibly the keenest in the insect world, a pair of giant spheres each built of some 30,000 pixel-like facets.”