Dragonflies-The "Mosquito Hawk" of the Tropics
As we are all painfully aware, rain showers in Belize are almost always followed by the hatching of thousands of new mosquitoes. When these menacing pests make their presence known, we quickly find ourselves reaching for the repellent in an attempt to keep bites to a minimum. It's hard to imagine, but if it weren't for one amazing and largely overlooked insect, this world would be swarming with even more mosquitoes.
Dragonflies are only one of a few types of creatures who prey upon mosquitoes, and for that, humans should be thankful. In this and other ways, dragonflies play an important role in maintaining the balance of biodiversity in the coastal ecosystem.
In existence for the past 280-380 million years, dragonflies are some of the most ancient insects around. The first dragonflies that existed were much larger than the present day species, having a wingspan reaching 35 inches. Today, dragonfly wingspans rarely exceed 10 inches, yet these insects are still able to reach speeds of 19 miles per hour. In addition to two elongated wings, dragonflies are equipped with six legs, although they are seldom used for walking. Their abdomen is elongated and they have large heads, a short antennae, and sensitive eyes to assist dragonflies in finding their prey.
As predators, adult dragonflies feed on flying insects, such as mosquitoes which they catch on their wings, either by flying around or sitting stationary. Dragonflies are unique in that they are carnivorous, eating other insects in abundance. It is not uncommon to hear of a dragonfly stuffing its mouth with up to a hundred mosquitoes at one time! Known as the "mosquito hawk," dragonflies may be our best defense against a world overcrowded with those bothersome blood-sucking pests. Some believe that as an alternative to the current method of using dangerous insecticides to control the mosquito population (as San Pedro does), perhaps dragonflies should be farmed and released. In several areas of the world, this has proven to be an effective method of ensuring the balance of biodiversity, while also keeping mosquito populations in check, and that is a very good thing.
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