Dragonflies Migrate Like Birds, Study Says

May 10, 2006

Dragonflies are long-distance fliers that travel similarly to migrating birds, a new study shows.

Researchers who followed radio-tagged dragonflies by plane say the insects' journey shows "astounding similarities" to that of migratory songbirds.

Dragonflies that migrate appear to build up fat reserves, wait for favorable winds, take rest breaks, and reorient themselves when they lose their way, according to the study.

The insects also followed the same flyways as migrating birds, with one dragonfly traveling 100 miles (160 kilometers) in a day (related wallpaper: dragonfly in flight).

Martin Wikelski, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University in New Jersey, led the study.

Wikelski's team investigated the migration of green darner dragonflies as part of research funded by the National Geographic Society Committee for Research and Exploration. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

Green darners are one of nine long-distance migratory dragonflies in North America. They fly each summer to the northern U.S. and Canada, and their offspring return south in the fall.

While green darners have been recorded as far south as the Gulf of Mexico, Wikelski says, it isn't known where they ultimately end up.

"We don't know if they go all the way to Florida or continue to Venezuela," he said. "We are unbelievably ignorant about [their] migratory phenomenon."

Mini Transmitters

The team's research, published today in the journal Biology Letters, focused on green darners as they migrated south from Cape May Point in New Jersey (map).

The dragonflies were fitted with tiny radio tags that were glued to the insects' undersides.

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