How do dragonfly larvae hunt?

Genevieve Dalley from the British Dragonfly Society analyses how dragonfly larvae catch their food.

Black-tailed skimmer dragonfly (Orthetrum cancellatum) larva / nymph

Dragon and damselfly larvae are fierce predators. Though they will chase down their prey, they are particularly well adapted to ambush hunting.

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An individual lies in wait, using its excellent eyesight and sensitive, hair-like structures on its legs and antennae, known as mechanoreceptors, to detect a passing meal.

When lunch approaches, it engages its labium – a specialised prehensile structure unique to this group that is folded up beneath the head when at rest and held in place using a locking mechanism. Internal hydraulic pressure – created by contraction of the abdominal muscles and closure of the anal valve – releases this mechanism and allows the labium to fire.

This lethal appendage can fully extend in as little as 15 milliseconds, giving the victim no time to react. A pair of pincers at its tip grab the prey and draw it into the mouth, where it is swifty chewed by the powerful serrated mandibles that give Odonata their name – ‘toothed jaw’.


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Main image: Dragonfly larva. © Arterra/Getty