Dragonflies Now and Then



IT IS difficult to look at a dragonfly today without being reminded of one of those paintings we’ve all seen of a prehistoric swamp scene, with a giant dragonfly soaring among lush cycads and perhaps an amphibian in the corner pulling itself up from the water onto land. With a wingspread of 70 cm (Wootton, 1981), one of those giant dragonflies (Meganeura monyi) that lived in the Permian or Caboniferous coal swamps of some 300 or 400 million years ago may or may not appear to us to be a scaled-up version of a present-day dragonfly. From considerations of insects in general, however, and from extrapolations of thermoregulation in dragonflies as a function of size in particular as reviewed in this chapter, it is almost certain that this winged monster was not only endothermic but also a good thermoregulator, as are many of its smaller cousins today. Insects were likely the first forms of life to have physiological mechanisms of thermoregulation, by at least 50 million years before the dinosaurs.


Flight Muscle Flight Speed Temperature Excess Convective Cool Wing Loading 
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© Bernd Heinrich 1993

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