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What Do Dragonflies Eat?

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Dragonflies are cool insects known for their speed when flying and their compound eyes. Do you have dragonflies around your home? Or do you know what kind of food to attract them with? Have you ever wondered what these insects eat? Read this article if you’d like to find out.

What do dragonflies eat?

Dragonflies are carnivorous insects, so they eat other insects or animals, but not plants. Examples of organisms that dragonflies eat are tadpoles, insect larvae, and other insects. They only consume live prey.

Dragonfly sitting on a stick

Do baby dragonflies, (also called nymphs), eat the same food as adults? Can you feed dragonflies with dead prey? How can you attract and care for dragonflies?

What Dragonflies Eat

As carnivorous insects, dragonflies will not eat plant products. Another interesting fact is that dragonflies will not eat something already dead or weak (not moving) as they prefer to chase their prey.

Some examples of adult dragonfly prey are:

  • Moths
  • Worms
  • Spiders
  • Tadpoles
  • Fruit flies
  • Houseflies
  • Butterflies
  • Fish larvae
  • Mosquitoes
  • Insect larvae
  • Smaller insects

What should you know about dragonflies? Let us find out.

Dragonfly Babies (Nymphs)

Young dragonflies are called nymphs. This stage of dragonfly development is also called the aquatic stage because dragonfly nymphs are always found in water.

Dragonflies on a Flower

Dragonfly nymphs share some morphological features with the adults, such as a resemblance of body shape, but they can be distinguished from the adults by certain features.

For example, the dragonfly nymph does not have wings. Nymphs also have a protrusive mouth called the mask, which is absent in the adult stage.

The mask, which is found below the head, is used to catch prey such as tadpoles and smaller aquatic insects.

When the nymph is not feeding, the mask lies ventrally beneath the head but is extended to catch live prey when the need arises.

The dragonfly nymph feeds on living organisms such as:

  • Worms
  • Tadpoles
  • Fish larvae
  • Mosquitoes
  • Insect larvae
  • Smaller insects

Now that you have known what the dragonfly nymph feeds on, let us discuss how they feed and catch their prey.

How Dragonfly Nymphs Catch Their Prey

dragon fly eats dragon fly

Remember that dragonfly nymphs do not have wings, so they do not chase after their prey. Instead, they wait for their prey to come to them.

They achieve this through camouflaging colors that blend with their environment, making them almost invisible to their prey.

The prey does not have to be very close to the nymph, they just have to be in a range that the protrusive mouth (mask) of the nymph can reach. The mask effectively grabs the prey and drags it back into the nymph’s mouth to be consumed.

The process of dragonfly nymph feeding is intriguing, right? Let us move on to dragonfly adults.

The Adult Stage

The adult dragonfly is very agile, with strong wings, a robust body, and large compound eyes.

These specialized eyes help adult dragonflies to detect movement from their prey and other predators. Their powerful wings help them to move quickly to capture prey and evade capture themselves.

Together, these qualities help them to navigate their environment, capture prey at great speed and fly away quickly from predators. Some dragonflies also have the ability to recognize prey by their shape.

Adult dragonflies can prey on small animals or fish, but usually prey on insects such as:

  • Moths
  • Fruit flies
  • Houseflies
  • Butterflies
  • Mosquitoes
Hairy dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) resting on vegetation on vivid green background

Dragonflies mostly feed on mosquitoes. Dragonfly nymphs love eating the larvae of mosquitoes, while dragonfly adults consume mature mosquitoes. It is also common for dragonflies to eat spiders.

How do adult dragonflies catch their prey and feed?

How the Adult Dragonfly Catches Its Prey

Adult dragonflies capture prey with their legs or mouth, depending on the size of the prey. Smaller prey is captured with the mouth, while larger prey is captured with the legs. Regardless, both the legs and mouth are used in feeding activities.

Based on how they feed, adult dragonflies are divided into two main categories:

  • Fliers
  • Perchers

Fliers are dragonflies that mostly capture and consume their prey while flying. These dragonflies rarely perch to consume small prey but may do so if the prey is large.

Fliers require more energy than perchers and are known to hunt prey in the evening.

Perching dragonflies are less active than fliers. These dragonflies only make short flights to capture or to consume prey. They are often active during the mid hours of the day.

Now that you know what dragonflies eat and how they catch their prey, let us discuss some uses of dragonflies.

Uses of Dragonflies

Do dragonflies play any useful roles in nature?

Dragonflies as Garden Pest Control

Most gardeners appreciate dragonflies because they control destructive garden pests such as insect larvae and grasshoppers. Without dragonflies and a few other beneficial insects, these pests can quickly destroy crops.

Detailed Closeup of Red Dragonfly

To reduce the destructive impact of garden pests, some gardeners intentionally introduce dragonflies into their gardens.

Dragonflies as Mosquito Control

Mosquitoes are vectors of malaria and other diseases, which affect millions of people yearly, especially in tropical regions.

Dragonflies love to feed on mosquitoes (both larvae and adults), so they make great mosquito controllers.

If mosquitoes can live around you, dragonflies can, too. Mosquitoes, just like dragonflies, lay their eggs in stagnant water, so dragonflies and mosquitoes are usually seen in the same environment.

Dragonflies as Pets

Have you ever seen a beautiful dragonfly? No matter how fast they fly, the wings of dragonflies always attract attention. Some people keep dragonflies as pets to appreciate their natural beauty.

What is your favorite use of dragonflies?

Final Thoughts

Dragonflies do not eat plants but eat small, active organisms such as mosquitoes, spiders, houseflies, and many more.

Since dragonflies love to eat mosquitoes and other garden enemies, they make great pest controllers. You can also keep dragonflies as pets.

What do you think about dragonflies? Do you have them in your garden? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.


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