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ESPAÑOL
DONATE

 

Odonata
what are dragonflies

The order Odonata ("toothed ones") includes some of the most ancient and beautiful insects that ever roamed Earth, as well as some of the largest flying invertebrates ever to have lived. Odonata consists of three groups: Anisoptera (which includes dragonflies), Zygoptera (which includes damselflies), and Anisozygoptera (a relict group represented by only two living species. This order is very diverse with about 5000 species, and its members are easy to observe.

Both dragonflies and damselflies belong to the Odonata, which is a subgroup of insects, which in turn is a group of uniramian arthropods. Many characteristics distinguish Odonata from other groups of insects -- minute antennae, extremely large eyes (filling most of the head), two pairs of transparent membranous wings with many small veins, a long slender abdomen, an aquatic larval stage (nymph) with posterior tracheal gills, and a prehensile labium (extendible jaws underneath the head). Among living Odonata, there are twenty-five families, mostly dragonflies and damselflies. Of all their characteristics, the easiest way to tell a dragonfly or damselfly from other insects is by the size of the eyes and shape of the abdomen. If the eyes are very large in proportion to the head and the abdomen is long and thin, then it is almost sure to be in Odonata.

While both dragonflies and damselflies belong to the Odonata and share many common features, then are a number of noticeable differences as well. Even before hatching from the egg, differences in morphology of the egg distinguish dragonflies (Anisoptera) from damselflies (Zygoptera). Dragonfly eggs are round and about 0.5 mm long, whereas damselfly eggs are cylindrical and longer, about 1 mm long. Similarly, the nymphs (larvae) of the two groups differ. A larval damselfly abdomen is longer and narrower with three fin-like gills projecting from the end. Dragonfly nymphs are shorter and bulkier, and the gills are located inside the abdomen. The dragonfly nymph expands and contracts its abdomen to move water over its gills, and can squeeze the water out rapidly for a short burst of underwater jet propulsion.

Most of a dragonfly's life is spent in the larval stage where it molts from six to fifteen times. Depending on altitude and latitude, larval development varies from the common one or two years to as many as six years. At that time, the nymph crawls up out of the water and molts one last time, emerging from its old skin as an adult with functional wings. Unlike butterflies and beetles, dragonflies and damselflies do not have an intermediate pupal stage before becoming an adult. Because of this, Odonata are said to be hemimetabolous, or undergo an "incomplete" or "gradual" metamorphosis.

 

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