If you’ve ever seen a dragonfly buzzing by, you may have wondered about its meal habits. What does a dragonfly eat, and how does it hunt? And did you know a dragonfly’s larvae is also an expert hunter? Keep reading to find out more about these incredible predators of the insect world.
What You'll Learn Today
What Do Dragonflies Eat?
Dragonflies eat many different kinds of insects. They are not picky, but they do prefer eating live insects that they hunt and capture themselves over dead insects that can be scavenged.
Dragonflies have various methods of hunting. They are strong, powerful, and fast-flying insects that grab their prey by hawking, gleaning, and sallying.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these methods:
- Hawking: Some types of dragonflies grab their prey mid-flight, without stopping or even slowing down, similar to how a hawk or eagle would hunt. Dragonflies can hover in place and fly in any direction, so they are expertly equipped and skilled to grab other flying insects when they cross their path.
- Gleaning: Many dragonflies will hover above plants watching for unsuspecting insects to land and rest. Then, they will swoop in, grab the insect, and eat it.
- Sallying: Still other types of dragonflies will sit on a plant and watch for insects to pass by; then they will dart out from their hiding place and snatch the insect.
Dragonflies can eat as much as 15 percent their own body weight at a time and will sometimes hunt insects up to 60 percent their own size. As you might expect, larger dragonflies eat larger insects and smaller ones eat smaller insects.
What is a Dragonfly’s Favorite Food?
As mentioned, dragonflies eat many types of insects and aren’t especially picky. Some of the insects they like to eat include:
- Mosquitos and midges: Many types of dragonflies, both large and small, eat these pesky flying insects. Mosquitos and midges make the perfect snack for dragonflies as they are small but plentiful.
- Bees and flies: Slightly larger dragonflies prey on various types of bees and flies. These insects are generally a little meatier than mosquitos and midges, so they are a little more filling and make a good-size meal for all but the smallest dragonflies.
- Butterflies and moths: Some dragonflies will eat moths and butterflies, especially smaller members of their species. The largest dragonflies may prey on bigger moths and butterflies as well.
- Damselflies: Some dragonflies prey on their smaller, slower-flying cousins, the damselflies. Damselflies are not usually their first choice of a meal, but larger dragonflies especially will hunt them if they are hungry and a damselfly is conveniently available.
- Other dragonflies: Larger dragonflies sometimes prey on smaller dragonflies of other species. They are fierce hunters and, when they hunt others of their own kind, it may lead to a fight before the larger one inevitably overpowers the smaller one.
What Do Dragonfly Larvae Eat?
Dragonfly larvae are quite different from adult dragonflies; they can’t fly, and they live in water. Depending on the species, a dragonfly larva, or nymph, may spend years living in a pond or marsh, shedding its skin multiple times before emerging from the water and gaining its wings.
As you might imagine, dragonfly nymphs have different food sources available than adults do; that said, they are still fierce and non-discriminate hunters. Some of the foods dragonfly larvae eat include:
- Mosquito and midge larvae: Adult dragonflies are chowing down on mosquitos, dragonfly nymphs are filling up on mosquito larvae. The larvae fill up ponds and other areas of stagnant water and make an easy food source for dragonfly nymphs.
- Water insects: Nymphs will prey on many types of insects that approach the water for a drink, as well as insects that live in or along the edges of the water. Some of these insects include water striders and various types of fly larvae.
- Tadpoles: The nymphs of many larger dragonfly species enjoy feasting on tadpoles. These immature frogs are large and can be a challenge to catch, but they make a filling meal for growing nymphs.
- Small fish: Any dragonfly larva capable of eating a tadpole may also feed on small fish such as minnows. These small fish are often plentiful in ponds, creeks, and other bodies of water where dragonfly nymphs may be living.
- Small lizards: Occasionally, nymphs of the largest dragonfly species have been known to eat small lizards or salamanders that have come to the water’s edge for a drink.
Check out this video of a dragonfly larva eating a midge larva:
Are Dragonflies Poisonous to Eat?
Now that we’ve talked about what dragonflies eat, have you ever wondered if people can eat dragonflies?
You probably know that, in many parts of the world, insects are eaten on a regular basis. But what about dragonflies?
Dragonflies are not poisonous; in fact, both the nymphs and the adults are edible. The main problem, at least with adult dragonflies, is catching them, as they are extremely difficult to sneak up on and highly skilled at speeding away.
In some places, dragonflies are caught by waving a tar-coated reed or stick through the air. The tar sticks to the wings of the dragonfly, preventing its escape.
In other areas, people simply use nets to catch them.
Dragonflies are not one of the most commonly consumed insects in the world, but they are edible, and the large size of many species makes them an excellent food source.
Dragonflies eat many different types of insects; they only discriminate based on what’s available and what they are physically able to catch. Some of the insects they frequently eat include mosquitos, flies, moths, and other dragonflies.
Dragonfly nymphs live in water but are also excellent hunters. They eat water-dwelling insects and larvae, tadpoles, and small fish. For more interesting articles about these beautiful insects, have a look here.
2 thoughts on “What Does A Dragonfly Eat?”
Hello Mr. Featherstone,
I found a live dragonfly just like the crimson one in the top photo. It had some spiderwebs wrapped around its head and “arms” and I carefully untangled as much as I could. Is there anything I could feed it while it hopefully heals? I was thinking about crickets or ladybugs, we don’t have a lot of insects around. Excellent article!
Have you thought about feeding it nectar, or honey, or something sweet like that? We found one in our garden that our cat caught. It was half alive, and we gave it some honey and sugar, and found that it was ok and eating it. Eventually it recovered and flew off a few minutes later.