Around 300 million years ago, long before dinosaurs roamed the earth, one of the world's first known insects made an appearance, insects we now know as dragonflies. These primitive creatures were incredibly large due to the high oxygen content of the atmosphere, with their wingspan reaching an unimaginable 60cm! We don't see beasties of this size flying around our ponds and streams nowadays, and if we did we would probably run for cover! Although smaller in size, the modern-day dragonfly is no less beautiful and fascinating, and if you are fortunate enough to be in the presence of any, they are always worth a closer look.
If you look closely at a dragonfly, you might observe many weird and wonderful characteristics that make them so unique, and most have specific structural colouring which creates their unmistakeable, iridescent glow. Dragonflies also possess incredible eyesight with nearly 80 percent of their brain allocated to processing sight. Humans usually see at a rate of 60 frames per second whereas dragonflies can see around 200 frames per second. For us, that is like watching the world in slow motion!
There are so many mindblowing facts about these creatures that set them apart from other insects, including their unrivalled aerial ability (for example they can fly at 30mph, travel across whole seas and catch their prey in mid air with a success rate of 95%!)
Here in the UK, we have around five dragonflies that you can spot around woodland areas. These include the Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea), Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator), Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis), Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) and the Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii). Here in the gardens at Meudon, our most common visitor is the Southern Hawker dragonfly.
The Clue is in the Exoskeleton!
Dragonflies are also part of the group of animals that leave behind their exoskeleton once shedding it. These are known as an exuviae. Exuviates are important to scientists as they can help to identify what species was present, and even indicate whether the individual was a male or female! Here is one we found in the ponds – this is likely to have come from a Southern Hawker.
Next time you are strolling through the gardens, or maybe heading to Bream Cove for a dip, keep an eye out for dragonflies and see if you can identify any that you see. If you come across any unusual ones that haven't been mentioned, we'd love to hear about it, preferably with a photo! Once you tune your senses in you will notice these gorgeous, winged wonders everywhere you go!