2 of 18

A Male Eastern Amberwing

16 of 18
Species in the suborder Anisoptera
There are 8 North American families of dragonflies in the order Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies)

Dragonflies have slender, elongated abdomens, robust bodies and 2 pairs of wings that are usually outstretched horizontally. The wings are membranous and elaborately veined. The hindwing is wider at the base than the forewing. The eyes are compound, large, adjoin each other and nearly cover the head. The antennae are short. The six legs are poor for walking but good for perching.

Larvae (nymphs) are aquatic, usually drab, with 6 legs and with small wing buds. Gills are located inside the rectum (unlike those of damselflies, which extend from the hind end like 3 leaflike tails). They breathe by drawing water in and out of their hind end. By forcefully expelling this water, the animal can move quickly in a form of jet propulsion.

To distinguish between the many types of dragonflies, note the details of wing vein patterns as well as colors and markings on wings and body. Males and females often have different colors and markings. Subadults often have different markings, too.

Adult length: from 1 to 3½ inches (varies with species).
Habitat and conservation: 
Nymphs are common in many aquatic habitats. Because they lay eggs in water, adults are usually near water, too, though their fast, strong flight takes them many places. Nine Missouri dragonflies are Species of Conservation Concern: bayou clubtail, midland clubtail, skillet clubtail, golden-winged skimmer, brimstone clubtail, elusive clubtail, Hine's emerald, Ozark emerald and treetop emerald. Hine's emerald is Endangered in Missouri and is the only dragonfly that is Federally Endangered.
The hunting of adult dragonflies is called “hawking.” Their legs are held in a basket shape during flight, which is perfect for grasping mosquitoes and other small flying insects. The hunting of the nymphs is more bizarre; they are typically lie-in-wait predators resting quietly on the substrate. When a potential meal swims or walks near, the nymph’s extendible jaws flash outward to snatch and draw in the food, which can be any small aquatic animal or even the claw of an equal-sized crayfish.
Distribution in Missouri: 
There are many species of dragonflies in our state, ranging from very common to unusual to rare to in danger of disappearing.
Life cycle: 
Males commonly perch on branches or other objects, patrolling their territories, driving away rival males and attempting to mate with females. Mating pairs usually fly in tandem. The female usually flies low over the water, depositing eggs directly on the surface. Larvae (nymphs) undergo several molts as they grow. When ready, they crawl out of the water to a safe place, shed their skin, and emerge as a young adult. In the next days or week, they complete their maturation.
Human connections: 
Anyone who dislikes mosquitoes can appreciate dragonflies! Dragonflies are also admired for their beautiful forms. It should be noted that dragonflies cannot sting. The larger species can deliver a pinching bite when handled, but they cannot harm people.
Ecosystem connections: 
Most of a dragonfly’s life is spent as a nymph. Some species live for 5 years underwater before becoming adults. They and the adult forms are important predators of mosquitoes, midges and other small insects. The nymphs are important food for fish and other aquatic insectivores.
Shortened URL