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Dragonflies

Broad-bodied darter dragonfly, Europe, 7.5 cm (3 in) long Dragonflies are fast-flying insects that live near rivers or ponds. They have long abdomens, large eyes and two pairs of transparent wings, of which the hind wings are broader. Their wings cannot be folded away, so they are always ready for flight. Dragonflies are among the quickest flyers. They are able to carry out split-second changes of pace and direction, hover and even fly backwards. Dragonflies feed on other insects, chasing them through the air and catching them with their legs, or plucking them off plants.


Yellow-winged darter dragonfly, 4 cm (1.6 inches) long
This is a close-up view of a nymph's head. A clawed mask normally covers its face. When prey comes in range it shoots the mask...Read More >>This is a close-up view of a nymph's head. A clawed mask normally covers its face. When prey comes in range it shoots the mask out to grab its victim and pull it into its waiting jaws.

Nymphs

Dragonflies lay their eggs under the water, on the stalks of plants. The young dragonflies that hatch out are called nymphs. They live underwater for up to five years, hunting insects, worms, crustaceans, tadpoles and small fish. As they grow, nymphs shed their skin several times, going through several stages, called instars.
Dragonfly nymphs have a clawed “mask” on their faces, which they use to catch prey and pull it into their mouths. The mask is normally folded under the head and thorax when at rest. The nymph remains motionless, but when its prey draws near, the mask unfolds in an instant—about 25 milliseconds. The claws at the mask's tip grasp the prey.
 


Becoming an adult

The largest dragonfly in the world is the giant petaltail from Australia. It has a wingspan of 16 cm (6.3 inches).

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