Dragonflies earn a lot of superlatives. Their order, Odonata, is one of the oldest insect orders, and fossilized dragonflies look just like today’s, but more convincingly dragon-like (imagine a 27-inch wingspan!). Today’s dragonflies have the biggest eyes of any insect, are the fastest fliers, and can move each wing independently, which enables them to fly in all six directions, including backwards.
What’s more, they have the best kill rate of any animal, including raptors and mammals like cheetahs or hyenas. They catch prey in mid-air, and manage to snare food in more than 95% of their attempts. No wonder they’ve survived the millennia!
The sinuous snaketail (Ophiogomphus occidentis) is in the Gomphidae, or Clubtail, family, all of which have eyes that are farther apart than other dragonflies, who often don’t have a gap at all between the eyes. As you can guess from the common name, the ends of their abdomen are enlarged.
This sinuous snaketail is a female: Males have a larger bulge at the tail. Males also have a forked appendage at the tip of the abdomen. Females lay eggs in the water as they fly over it, and the resulting naiads spend three years there before becoming adults. Naiads are also predators, and eat a smorgasbord of things including freshwater shrimp, mayfly and mosquito larvae, and even small fish or tadpoles.
It’s dragonfly season: See if you can spot a clubtail!
See more of Karen’s work here.
An amazing video on dragonflies as hunters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJi61NAIsjs. Accessed 7/15/22.
BugGuide’s page on Clubtails: https://bugguide.net/node/view/203. Accessed 7/15/22.