Dragonfly Makes World's Longest Flights, Study Finds

Posted: Mar 3 2016, 9:00pm CST | by , in News | Latest Science News


Dragonfly Makes World's Longest Flights, Study Finds
Credit: Greg Lasley

Dragonflies travel thousands of miles over oceans, making them the world's longest-distance flyer.

Dragonfly is the world’s new most prolific long distance traveler. The tiny insect, that is barely an inch and a half long, can fly a staggering 4,400 miles over the oceans, shattering the record of monarch butterflies that fly about 2,500 miles from United States and Canada to Mexico.

“Monarch butterflies migrating back and forth across North America were thought to be the longest migrating insects, travelling about 2,500 miles each day,” said co-researcher Daniel Troast. “But Pantala completely destroys any migrating record they would have.”

The conclusion was drawn on the basis of DNA analysis. The samples of the insect for DNA extraction and sequencing were acquired from the field and museum collections of Guyana, India, Japan and the United States.

It’s the first research of such kind that has used genes to determine how far these insects can fly and it turned out that small dragonfly species, officially called Pantala flavescens can travel thousands of miles, more than any other insect. And apparently they do that in search of a mate.

“This is the first time anyone has looked at genes to see how far these insects have travelled,” said lead researcher Jessica Ware from Rutgers University.

“If North American Pantala only bred with North American Pantala and Japanese Pantala only bred with Japanese Pantala. We would expect to see that in genetic results that differed from each other. Because, we don’t see that, it suggests that the mixing of genes across vast geographic expanses.” 

One would expect that large birds or whales are the most realistic options when it comes to long distance migration, yet these are the insects which are capable of traveling incredible distances.  

But how do these insects manage to travel so long continent to continent and hook up with other dragonfly species despite being so small? Jessica Ware explains. “These dragonflies have adaptations such as increased surface areas on their wings that enable them to use the wind to carry them. They stroke, stroke, stroke and then glide for long periods, expending minimal amounts of energy as they do so.”

This research provides new insight into the migratory behavior of dragonfly species which is a unique characteristic of this insect. The long distance migration of dragonflies has been documented before as they have been observed migrating from Asia to Africa once every year. But it was never thought that they could fly so long. 

Dragonfly requires fresh water to mate and lying eggs and if they see a pool of fresh water in the middle of the vast ocean, they likely stop and dive earthward for mating. Once the eggs are hatched and babies are mature enough to fly, the dragonflies will take up where they left off.

The study was published in journal PLOS ONE.

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The Author

Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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