Science

Dragonfly Takes The Prize For Long Distance Flight

The humble dragonfly knows how to get from one place to another and now holds the record for the longest insect flight with a range of over 4,400 miles.

Dragonfly Takes The Prize For Long Distance Flight

New research shows the incredible migration of a the Pantala dragonfly

With a range estimated to exceed 4,400 miles, the Pantala flavescens would give Charles Lindbergh’s flight a run for its money. Thing is, this inch and a half long dragonfly is only, just that, an inch and a half long yet capable of flight that well surpasses the impressive migratory flight of the monarch butterfly. And who doesn’t like dragonflies? Firstly, many of them flit about on a mission to devour mosquitoes by snatching them out of the air or easily plucking them off the surface of fetid standing water.

The mosquito is a senseless murderer of humans with its annoying bite and job as an ambassador for death. Watching a dragonfly feast on this scourge is both fun and an example of natural engineering on a high level. The don’t bite, largely never enter the house and give the hummingbird a run for its money with its grace and agility in flight.

Now, it’s very difficult to “tag” a dragonfly to measure its flight but scientists and researchers are a clever lot, they went considerably further in order to put the Pantala’s migration at nearly 4,500 miles. The looked at its genes in research recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.

“This is the first time anyone has looked at genes to see how far these insects have traveled,” senior author Jessica Ware, an assistant professor of biology at Rutgers University-Newark, recently wrote in a press release that complimented her study’s publication.

“If North American Pantala only bred with North American Pantala, and Japanese Pantala only bred with Japanese Pantala, we would expect to see that in genetic results that differed from each other. Because we don’t see that, it suggests the mixing of genes across vast geographic expanses,” she continued.

By looking at the genetic makeup of dragonflies from South America, India, Japan, Korea, the east of Canada and the U.S. South she and her team found that each were nearly identical genetically. If teenagers, this could almost be explained as a matter of simple wanton horniness; in the case of the Pantala dragonfly, it simply shows prodigious migration patterns and breeding upon arrival creating a worldwide gene pool that is shared between the insects.

Unique flying technique

While there are creatures that store fat in order to make an impressive flight or swim during the migration season, the Pantala dragonfly does it through diet AND exercise. There is a reason that researchers and drone designers alike looking at the dragonfly as a model in flying technique.

“These dragonflies have adaptations such as increased surface areas on their wings that enable them to use the wind to carry them,” Ware explained. “They stroke, stroke, stroke and then glide for long periods, expending minimal amounts of energy as they do so.”

The dragonfly’s lengthy migration is not terribly different than the presence of “snow birds” in Florida over the winter; dragonflies are simply “following the weather,” according to the paper’s co-author Daniel Troast.

Simply, “they’re going from India where it’s dry season to Africa where it’s moist season, and apparently they do it once a year,” he said.

In order to reproduce, the dragonfly requires fresh rainwater and pools created by rainstorms in order to lay eggs.

And if they need to fly 4,000 so be it, it’s instinctual.

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