If you’ve ever tried to trap a flying insect in your home, you know how fast they can move. Some insects zip through the air at speeds greater than 30 miles per hour and perform amazing acrobatics in the process.
In honor of National Aviation Day on August 19th, we salute the world's fastest and most daring insect, one that truly demonstrates the grace and skill of flight.
What is the fastest flying insect?
While the spurge hawk moth (also known as the hummingbird moth) has been clocked at an impressive 33.7 miles per hour it is just the second-fastest flying insect on record. According to the Smithsonian, the title of fastest flying insect belongs to the dragonfly, which darts and spins and dives at a record 35 miles per hour.
About the Dragonfly
Dragonflies are most commonly found near ponds and lakes. They can also be found hovering near black top parking lots at times, as they may mistake these reflective surfaces for a body of water.
According to entomologists at the Smithsonian Institution, dragonflies are believed to have been around for 300 million years and were among the first winged creatures to evolve. North American dragonflies vary by region, but species such as the blue-eyed darner are active from coast-to-coast. Dragonflies can also be found on every continent except Antarctica.
What makes dragonflies such fantastic fliers?
The dragonfly is speedy due to its unique body and wing structure. These qualities allow it to accelerate in ways that other insects cannot. Here are some other interesting facts you may not know about the world’s fastest flying insect:
- Like an airplane, dragonflies are designed for smooth flight. Their long and tapered bodies channel air over and under the wings and abdomen to minimize drag.
- While most insects have fixed wings that move together in motion, dragonflies sport wings that they can independently move up and down or forward and back.
- Dragonflies can fly in any direction they choose, even backward or upside down. They can also execute hairpin turns at full speed and in slow motion, or even hover like a helicopter.
How do dragonflies use their speed?
Dragonflies are hunters. They prey on other flying insects and use their speed and agility to help them catch their dinner in midair.
A research study conducted by Harvard University and the National Science Foundation used high-speed cameras to record dragonfly habits. In the study, dragonflies caught 90 percent of the fruit flies they targeted, quickly trapping each one with their feet. After a catch, dragonflies flip their bodies upside down and usually consume the prey while still in flight.
Are dragonflies helpful or harmful?
Dragonflies are not harmful to humans. In fact, dragonflies are a great asset during the spring and summer months when mosquitoes are most active. A single dragonfly can consume hundreds of mosquitoes a day. These fast flying insects can make excellent guests at your next lakeside party or picnic.
So next time you see a dragonfly, don’t flinch. Just sit back and enjoy its grace and speed.