In the skies across Minnesota (and much of the eastern US and southeastern Canada, for that matter), roams a fierce and agile predator, capable of taking down prey you would never imagine—and some many wouldn’t dare to try at themselves.
Hagenius brevistylus, is a clubtail dragonfly known as the Dragonhunter, and is one of nearly 150 species found in Minnesota. Clubtails are the name given to members of the Gomphidae family consisting of about 900 species, itself. The Dragonhunter is by far the largest North American clubtail, reaching lengths near 3.5 inches.
The name Dragonhunter is one earned by reputation. Aerial ambush of darners and other clubtail is common, but other dragonflies aren’t their only kills. Dragonhunters have also been documented to prey on Monarch butterflies, feeding on select parts to avoid the highest concentration of toxins. If that isn’t impressive, dragonhunters have even been documented to pursue and successfully kill hummingbirds. Yes, hummingbirds. That’s surprising to a lot of people considering that hummingbirds are known for their speed and agility. They can flap their wings at 80 beats per second to hover in place and even fly upside down or backwards.
Dragonflies have that beat.
They are perfected flying machines. They can hover, fly sideways, upside down, vertically, and are the only insect that can fly backwards.
A dragonfly can accelerate at 3 Gs and make a near effortless turn at 9 Gs.
For reference, astronauts experience 3 Gs from a space shuttle launch. Most fighter jets can only pull up to 9 Gs vertically.
Still not resonating? A 150 lb person at 1 G weighs 450 lbs at 3 Gs.
There are a number of anatomical adaptations that allow for dragonflies to pull of these jaw-dropping maneuvers. In fact, the more closely you look at dragonflies, the more impressive and awe-inspiring they are. In fact, dragonflying—seeking out and identifying dragonflies—is a a fast growing hobby.
Rather than spoil everything for you right here, right now, I’ll leave you with this: we will be doing a podcast episode on dragonflies in the coming months, so stay tuned for more!