How do dragonfly larvae hunt?

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

Dragonfly larva

Dragonfly larvae are fierce predators © Arterra / Getty


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

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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