Skip to main content

Not a leopard or a lion, this familiar little creature is nature’s most successful predator

Nature has endowed dragonflies with the most powerful weapons to improve performance in each hunt.

When thinking about the most successful predator in the natural world, many people probably think of something large and agile, such as a cheetah or a feline. However, based on the numbers, the Cheetah – the fastest land animal – can only capture their prey with a success rate of 20% to 30%. So what are the most successful predators on Earth, in fact, you probably still see them every day, especially before the rains.

That’s the dragonfly, the colorful creature with the compound eyes and two sets of wings that you chased after your childhood. Although they may look quite small, in the wild, dragonflies are not prey at all. Instead, these creatures are among the most successful predators on the planet, with an accuracy rate of about 95% when hunting. This is a higher success rate than any other creature on Earth, according to a report from the Willistown Conservation Trust.

Much of the secret to their success lies in the unique adaptability they have accumulated over the course of their development, including aspects of vision and flight. However, they are not natural predators, as dragonflies spend most of their lives in the larval stage, or pupae.

Dragonfly pupae develop in water from 2-3 months to 1 or 2 years, depending on the species. During this time, the pupae will prey on anything they can catch such as the larvae of other insects, worms, crustaceans, snails, tadpoles, and even small fish. To capture prey, dragonfly pupae have developed a unique, extendable hinged jaw, or labium, that can shoot out faster than the reflexes of most prey. In fact, the process of dragonfly pupation hunting is like the creepy shot of Xenomorph, the scared alien creature from the movie Alien.

Dragonfly pupae catching prey.

And to keep up with their prey and avoid being hunted, dragonfly pupae use a unique mode of movement called jet propulsion. No other insect species uses such a migration strategy. The pupae will suck water from their anal valve, also take oxygen from there to breathe, and forcefully push the water out of the anal valve to propel their body forward. This type of tricuspid valve is similar in structure to the human tricuspid valve, and it even inspired researchers to design a prosthetic heart valve.

As they develop, dragonfly pupae will molt 5 to 14 times until fully mature. When they reach their final molt, the pupae will already sit in shallow water in preparation, to switch from breathing in water to breathing in the air. They then emerge from the water, climbing to higher vegetation in the stream or near the shore, looking for a vantage point to begin their final transformation. Here, they will pump and redistribute body fluids, to slowly push them out of the larval skin. After spawning, they leave behind an empty skin. 

Dragonflies have the ability to control two pairs of wings that work independently.

After a splendid appearance, the dragonfly will take off on its maiden flight. Because they are still quite weak, the first flight of dragonflies is often short, this is also the time when they are especially vulnerable to other predators. But when the body and wings stiffen, they will officially reach peak hunting performance. Once fully developed, dragonflies will take over the skies as masters of flight. With independent control of the front and rear wings, this insect is extremely maneuverable, easily gliding and changing its flight direction in any direction, including backward or stationary. in place.

In addition to flying skills, dragonflies are also equipped with an equally agile nervous system. They have the ability to immobilize their prey and predict its future position. In this way, they can intercept their prey mid-air with extreme precision. This ability is complemented by the slack’s impressive eyesight. Each dragonfly’s eye is made up of thousands of units called ommatidia, which span most of its head area. As a result, the creature has nearly 360-degree vision, except for a small blind spot directly behind. Its unique vision also serves as a kind of model, which many researchers are looking to mimic to develop artificial eyes.

Dragonfly eyes are also a wonder of nature.

As the muse of both science fiction and medical invention, these precision predators are still displaying outstanding hunting performance in their territories. In the future, it is possible that some other terrifying creatures will also be discovered with a high hunting rate like them, but for now, the crown is still resting on the tiny heads of these tiny animals. .

By conserving wetlands, we can ensure that dragonflies can continue to inspire wonder and innovation for generations to come.