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Concept: Dragonfly


This work is a synthesis of our current understanding of the mechanics, aerodynamics and visually mediated control of dragonfly and damselfly flight, with the addition of new experimental and computational data in several key areas. These are: the diversity of dragonfly wing morphologies, the aerodynamics of gliding flight, force generation in flapping flight, aerodynamic efficiency, comparative flight performance and pursuit strategies during predatory and territorial flights. New data are set in context by brief reviews covering anatomy at several scales, insect aerodynamics, neuromechanics and behaviour. We achieve a new perspective by means of a diverse range of techniques, including laser-line mapping of wing topographies, computational fluid dynamics simulations of finely detailed wing geometries, quantitative imaging using particle image velocimetry of on-wing and wake flow patterns, classical aerodynamic theory, photography in the field, infrared motion capture and multi-camera optical tracking of free flight trajectories in laboratory environments. Our comprehensive approach enables a novel synthesis of datasets and subfields that integrates many aspects of flight from the neurobiology of the compound eye, through the aeromechanical interface with the surrounding fluid, to flight performance under cruising and higher-energy behavioural modes.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Moving in a moving medium: new perspectives on flight’.

Concepts: Flying and gliding animals, Odonata, Fluid mechanics, Flight, Computational fluid dynamics, Dragonfly, Aerodynamics, Fluid dynamics


BACKGROUND: Wing size and shape have important aerodynamic implications on flight performance. We explored how wing size was related to wing shape in territorial males of 37 taxa of the damselfly family Calopterygidae. Wing coloration was also included in the analyses because it is sexually and naturally selected and has been shown to be related to wing shape. We studied wing shape using both the non-dimensional radius of the second moment of wing area (RSM) and geometric morphometrics. Lower values of the RSM result in less energetically demanding flight and wider ranges of flight speed. We also re-analyzed previously published data on other damselflies and dragonflies. RESULTS: The RSM showed a hump-shaped relationship with wing size. However, after correcting for phylogeny using independent contrast, this pattern changed to a negative linear relationship. The basal genus of the study family, Hetaerina, was mainly driving that change. The obtained patterns were specific for the study family and differed from other damselflies and dragonflies. The relationship between the RSM and wing shape measured by geometric morphometrics was linear, but relatively small changes along the RSM axis can result in large changes in wing shape. Our results also showed that wing coloration may have some effect on RSM. CONCLUSIONS: We found that RSM showed a complex relationship with size in calopterygid damselflies, probably as a result of other selection pressures besides wing size per se. Wing coloration and specific behavior (e.g. courtship) are potential candidates for explaining the complexity. Univariate measures of wing shape such as RSM are more intuitive but lack the high resolution of other multivariate techniques such as geometric morphometrics. We suggest that the relationship between wing shape and size are taxa-specific and differ among closely-related insect groups.

Concepts: Moment, Damselflies, Dragonfly, Change, Wing, Odonata, Aerodynamics, Damselfly


Several reports suggested that rice seedling nursery-box application of some systemic insecticides (neonicotinoids and fipronil) is the cause of the decline in dragonfly species noted since the 1990s in Japan. We conducted paddy mesocosm experiments to investigate the effect of the systemic insecticides clothianidin, fipronil and chlorantraniliprole on rice paddy field biological communities. Concentrations of all insecticides in the paddy water were reduced to the limit of detection within 3 months after application. However, residuals of these insecticides in the paddy soil were detected throughout the experimental period. Plankton species were affected by clothianidin and chlorantraniliprole right after the applications, but they recovered after the concentrations decreased. On the other hand, the effects of fipronil treatment, especially on Odonata, were larger than those of any other treatment. The number of adult dragonflies completing eclosion was severely decreased in the fipronil treatment. These results suggest that the accumulation of these insecticides in paddy soil reduces biodiversity by eliminating dragonfly nymphs, which occupy a high trophic level in paddy fields.

Concepts: Irrigation, Indonesia, Dragonfly, Satoyama, Paddy field


Sensorimotor control in vertebrates relies on internal models. When extending an arm to reach for an object, the brain uses predictive models of both limb dynamics and target properties. Whether invertebrates use such models remains unclear. Here we examine to what extent prey interception by dragonflies (Plathemis lydia), a behaviour analogous to targeted reaching, requires internal models. By simultaneously tracking the position and orientation of a dragonfly’s head and body during flight, we provide evidence that interception steering is driven by forward and inverse models of dragonfly body dynamics and by models of prey motion. Predictive rotations of the dragonfly’s head continuously track the prey’s angular position. The head-body angles established by prey tracking appear to guide systematic rotations of the dragonfly’s body to align it with the prey’s flight path. Model-driven control thus underlies the bulk of interception steering manoeuvres, while vision is used for reactions to unexpected prey movements. These findings illuminate the computational sophistication with which insects construct behaviour.

Concepts: Classical mechanics, Force, Common Whitetail, Brain, Rigid body, Arthropod, Libellulidae, Dragonfly


The recently completed Odonata database for California consists of specimen records from the major entomology collections of the state, large Odonata collections outside of the state, previous literature, historical and recent field surveys, and from enthusiast group observations. The database includes 32,025 total records and 19,000 unique records for 106 species of dragonflies and damselflies, with records spanning 1879-2013. Records have been geographically referenced using the point-radius method to assign coordinates and an uncertainty radius to specimen locations. In addition to describing techniques used in data acquisition, georeferencing, and quality control, we present assessments of the temporal, spatial, and taxonomic distribution of records. We use this information to identify biases in the data, and to determine changes in species prevalence, latitudinal ranges, and elevation ranges when comparing records before 1976 and after 1979. The average latitude of where records occurred increased by 78 km over these time periods. While average elevation did not change significantly, the average minimum elevation across species declined by 108 m. Odonata distribution may be generally shifting northwards as temperature warms and to lower minimum elevations in response to increased summer water availability in low-elevation agricultural regions. The unexpected decline in elevation may also be partially the result of bias in recent collections towards centers of human population, which tend to occur at lower elevations. This study emphasizes the need to address temporal, spatial, and taxonomic biases in museum and observational records in order to produce reliable conclusions from such data.

Concepts: Elevation, Biology, Geodesy, Scientific method, Damselfly, Odonata, Dragonfly


Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) present an unparalleled insect model to integrate evolutionary genomics with ecology for the study of insect evolution. Key features of Odonata include their ancient phylogenetic position, extensive phenotypic and ecological diversity, several unique evolutionary innovations, ease of study in the wild and usefulness as bioindicators for freshwater ecosystems worldwide. In this review, we synthesize studies on the evolution, ecology and physiology of odonates, highlighting those areas where the integration of ecology with genomics would yield significant insights into the evolutionary processes that would not be gained easily by working on other animal groups. We argue that the unique features of this group combined with their complex life cycle, flight behaviour, diversity in ecological niches and their sensitivity to anthropogenic change make odonates a promising and fruitful taxon for genomics focused research. Future areas of research that deserve increased attention are also briefly outlined.

Concepts: Life, Odonata, Insect, Dragonfly, Biology, Biodiversity, Evolution, Ecology


Aposematism is an evolved, cross-species association between a preys' unprofitability and the presence of conspicuous signals. Avian predators have been widely employed to understand the evolution of these warning signals However, insect predators are abundant, diverse, and highly visual foragers that have been shown to be capable of learned aversion. Therefore, it is likely that their behaviour also shapes the nature of anti-predator traits. In this study, we evaluated the rates of attack of a community (13 species) of mature adult dragonflies (Odonata) on artificial prey of varying size (2.5-31 mm lengthwise) and colour pattern (black, black/yellow striped). The relative attack rates of dragonflies on prey increased as prey size decreased, but there was no evidence that the attack rates by dragonflies were affected by prey colour pattern and no evidence for an interaction between colour pattern and size. To investigate prey selection by specific predator species under field conditions, we compared the time to attack distributions of black-painted prey presented to two common dragonflies: Leucorrhinia intacta and the larger, Libellula pulchella. We found that the two dragonfly species, as well as the two sexes, had different foraging responses. L. pulchella was more likely to attack larger prey, and females of both species more likely to attack prey than males. Collectively, our results indicate that dragonflies are highly size selective. However, while the nature of this selectivity varies among dragonfly species, there is little evidence that classic black/yellow warning signals deter attack by these aerial invertebrate predators.

Concepts: Aposematism, Biological pest control, Sex, Optimal foraging theory, Evolution, Dragonfly, Libellulidae, Predation


The potential of DNA barcoding approaches to identify single species and characterize species compositions strongly depends on the marker choice. The prominent “Folmer region”, a 648 basepair fragment at the 5' end of the mitochondrial CO1 gene, has been traditionally applied as a universal DNA barcoding region for metazoans. In order to find a suitable marker for biomonitoring odonates (dragonflies and damselflies), we here explore a new region of the CO1 gene (CO1B) for DNA barcoding in 51 populations of 23 dragonfly and damselfly species. We compare the “Folmer region”, the mitochondrial ND1 gene (NADH dehydrogenase 1) and the new CO1 region with regard to (i) speed and reproducibility of sequence generation, (ii) levels of homoplasy and (iii) numbers of diagnostic characters for discriminating closely related sister taxa and populations. The performances of the gene regions regarding these criteria were quite different. Both, the amplification of CO1B and ND1 was highly reproducible and CO1B showed the highest potential for discriminating sister taxa at different taxonomic levels. In contrast, the amplification of the “Folmer region” using the universal primers was difficult and the third codon positions of this fragment have experienced nucleotide substitution saturation. Most important, exploring this new barcode region of the CO1 gene identified a higher discriminating power between closely related sister taxa. Together with the design of layered barcode approaches adapted to the specific taxonomic “environment”, this new marker will further enhance the discrimination power at the species level.

Concepts: RNA, Damselfly, Species, Odonata, Taxonomic rank, Gene, Dragonfly, DNA


Sexual dimorphism occurs widely across the animal kingdom and has profound effects on evolutionary trajectories. Here, we investigate sex-specific gene expression in Ischnura elegans (Odonata: dragonflies and damselflies), a species with pronounced sexual differences including a female-limited colour polymorphism with two female-like gynochrome morphs and one male-mimicking, androchrome morph. Whole-organism transcriptome profiling and sex-biased gene expression analysis was conducted on adults of both sexes (pooling all females as well as separating the three morphs) to gain insights into genes and pathways potentially associated with sexual development and sexual conflict.

Concepts: Organism, Allele, Dragonfly, Gene, Chromosome, Evolution, Genetics, Gene expression


Determination of the interactions between hematophagous arthropods and their hosts is a necessary component to understanding the transmission dynamics of arthropod-vectored pathogens. Current molecular methods to identify hosts of blood-fed arthropods require the preservation of host DNA to serve as an amplification template. During transportation to the laboratory and storage prior to molecular analysis, genetic samples need to be protected from nucleases, and the degradation effects of hydrolysis, oxidation and radiation. Preservation of host DNA contained in field-collected blood-fed specimens has an additional caveat: suspension of the degradative effects of arthropod digestion on host DNA. Unless effective preservation methods are implemented promptly after blood-fed specimens are collected, host DNA will continue to degrade. Preservation methods vary in their efficacy, and need to be selected based on the logistical constraints of the research program.

Concepts: Molecular biology, DNA, Effectiveness, Dragonfly, Identification, Blood, Mosquito, Insect