Despite its tiny size (about 1.5 inches), the Globe Skimmer dragonfly can perform 4,400-mile-long transcontinental flights in search for the perfect mate. The previous record holders were Monarch butterflies, which can travel up to 2,500 miles during their annual migration season.
Researchers found that the dragonfly could travel so much after they had analyzed the genes of several dragonflies from Canada and South America all the way to Korea, India, and Japan.
The research team found genetic similarities between dragonfly populations on several continents and concluded that this may have something to do with them flying extraordinarily long distances.
Prof. Jessica Ware, the lead author of the study and entomologist with the Rutgers University in New Jersey, noted that the study is the first to analyze genetic information of Globe Skimmers (scientifically known as Pantala flavescens) to reveal how far the animals can travel.
Prof. Ware explained that there wouldn’t be any genetic similarities between the insects on so many continents, if the dragonflies bred only with mates in their proximity. But the recent analysis revealed mixing of genes across incredibly large areas.
Researchers also noted that Gold Skimmers have some specific adaptations that allow them to save energy during their strenuous journeys. For instance, the large surface areas located on their wings allows them to glide from time to time to conserve energy.
Past research had found that Asian dragonflies can cross the Indian Ocean to reach Africa. Daniel Troast, another researcher involved in the study, explained that Gold Skimmers migrate from India during the dry season to Africa, where there is more moisture, every year since they need moisture to breed.
But the trip to Africa is not easy. Scientists said it was so dangerous that it could be deemed a “suicide mission.” Many of the tiny insects do not make it to the African continent, but if enough survive the species is not in peril.
The most skilled dragonflies perform such trips on a regular basis. Many of them learned how to use air currents and even storms to glide their way to the destination. Other dragonflies mate during their trips when they come across fresh water pools where they can lay their eggs. A few weeks later, the eggs hatch and a new generation of Globe Skimmers is ready to join the swarm on its cross-continental journey.
A research paper on the new findings was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Image Source: Wikimedia