Dragonflies are fascinating creatures known for their shimmering wings and brilliantly colored bodies. They can often be seen darting across the surface of lakes, streams, and wetlands, primarily feeding on smaller insects like mosquitoes and midges. This behavior might make some people wonder if dragonflies could also bite or harm humans.
The good news is that despite their fierce appearance and robust bodies, dragonflies do not sting or bite people. They are harmless to humans and can even be beneficial, as they function as natural predators for many small, pesky insects. Their agile, fast flight patterns make them excellent hunters in the skies, capturing their prey with their bristly legs.
In your garden, the presence of dragonflies can be an asset. They serve as living pest control, reducing the number of troublesome insects and providing an entertaining display of aerial acrobatics. So next time you spot a dragonfly, appreciate its beauty and its role as a helpful insect predator.
Dragonflies and Their Bites
Do Dragonflies Bite?
Yes, dragonflies can bite, but it’s important to note that their bites are neither harmful nor venomous. Larger species of dragonflies may deliver a pinching bite when handled, but they cannot harm people [^1^].
Is a Dragonfly Bite Dangerous?
A dragonfly bite is usually harmless to humans. As agile predators, they use their powerful jaws and mandibles to catch and consume flying insects such as flies, gnats, and mosquitoes. However, their bite poses no significant danger to humans.
The Dragonfly’s Jaws and Mandibles
Dragonflies have strong jaws and sharp mandibles, which they use for catching and consuming their prey. These features are well-adapted for their diet of flying insects, but they are not intended for attacking or harming humans.
Comparison of Dragonfly Bite impact:
|Insect||Bite||Effect on Human|
|Mosquito||Piercing bite||Itchy, swelling|
|Bee||Piercing sting||Painful, swelling|
|Wasp||Piercing sting||Painful, swelling|
|Dragonfly Prey||Flying insects||Varies (depending on insect)|
In conclusion, while dragonflies do possess the ability to bite, their bites are not harmful or dangerous to humans. Their jaws and mandibles serve as efficient tools for catching and consuming flying insects, but pose no significant threat to people.
Dragonfly Behavior and Characteristics
Life Cycle and Metamorphosis
Dragonflies have a fascinating life cycle that includes both aquatic and flying stages. Their first stage is the larval stage, where they live underwater as nymphs. These aquatic nymphs have gills and use jet propulsion to move through water. After undergoing metamorphosis, they emerge as adult dragonflies and take to the skies.
Some features of dragonfly nymphs include:
- Gills inside the rectum
- 6 legs
- Large eyes
- Eating small aquatic organisms
Adult Dragonflies and Their Hunting Abilities
Adult dragonflies are skilled predators that hunt flying insects, like mosquitoes and midges. They are known for their incredible agility, capable of flying in all directions and hovering in place. Dragonflies can reach speeds of up to 30 mph, making them some of the fastest insects in the world.
Some characteristics of adult dragonflies are:
- Large, powerful wings
- Exceptional eyesight
- Carnivorous diet
- Ability to catch prey mid-air
Common Nicknames and Misconceptions
Dragonflies are also known by various nicknames, such as “devil’s darning needle” and “horse-stinger.” However, these names perpetuate some common misconceptions about dragonflies.
|Dragonflies do not sting or bite humans||They are aggressive and will sting or bite humans|
|Adult dragonflies cannot break human skin||They can puncture human skin with their pointed spines|
|They lack venom||They are venomous insects like wasps and ants|
|Dragonflies majorly prey on mosquitoes||They mainly prey on larger insects like wasps and butterflies|
While dragonflies can nip in self-defense when threatened, they are not aggressive towards humans. Dragonfly bites are not venomous and are typically not painful or harmful to humans. Dragonflies are, in fact, beneficial insects that play a role in controlling mosquito and other small flying insect populations.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Common Whitetail Dragonflies
Here are two photos of dragonflies taken today. I noticed one has much more white, I have been wondering if one is male and the other female or are they two different species? Thanks You very much and have a wonderful day.
North Middle Tennessee
Both of your individuals are Common Whitetails, Plathemis lydia, and both are males. The individual with the white abdomen is a mature male. The other is immature. According to BugGuide: “Immature males have the same body pattern as females but the same wing pattern as mature males.“ BugGuide also indicates: “Females have a short, stout abdomen with several oblique dorsolateral white or pale yellow markings against a brown ground color; each wing has three black evenly-spaced blotches“ rather than the two uneven blotches on the wings of the male. BugGuide has a nice image illustrating the difference between the male and female. The species ranges throughout the contiguous United States and much of Canada.
Letter 2 – Common Whitetail Dragonflies: Female and Immature Male
Subject: Second Spotted Wing Dragonfly
Location: Faribault County, Minnesota
July 14, 2016 12:58 pm
I think I owe y’all an apology.
I asked about the identification of some dragonflies this week, one being amber in color and two with spotted wings. The way I phrased my query could lead one to assume the spotted wing photos were of the same dragonfly; they are not the same dragonfly. Differing angles, yes; the spots however are not the same.
So, I am re-submitting the one and adding an additional photo to go with it taken at an ever so slightly different angle (I think I moved a tad while weeding).
The third image is another photo of the female Common Whitetail you identified for me. I figured you could add it to your files. I’m allowed three attachments, after all …
Thanks so much!
Signature: Wanda J. Kothlow
Does your rain garden have a pond? You have so many marvelous Dragonflies. As we wrote yesterday, the spotted winged Dragonfly is a female Common Whitetail, Plathemis lydia. The other spotted winged Dragonfly image you provided today is an immature male Common Whitetail. Many Dragonflies are sexually dimorphic, meaning males and females look like different species. Additionally, many Dragonflies have immature individuals that change in color as they mature. The Common Whitetail is one such species and the mature male Common Whitetail has a namesake white abdomen. According to BugGuide: “Males and females have different wing patterns. … Immature males have the same body pattern as females but the same wing pattern as mature males. … Mature males have a short, stout abdomen that is completely chalky blue-white covering the adolescent pattern. … Females have a short, stout abdomen with several oblique dorsolateral white or pale yellow markings against a brown ground color; each wing has three black evenly-spaced blotches.”
Thank you, Daniel et al!
Unless you count the birdbath, we have no pond or standing water (so no dragonfly nymphs) here at the apartments. We do water most evenings, especially since we’ve been moving plants and adding others and the days are getting hotter and drier. Others in town do have small rain gardens; Mom lives a mile away on the edge of town and her rain garden does have water since her sump pump drains into the rain garden down an artificial waterfall inset. In heavier rains, the field behind her has standing water for a few days and the peepers sing their chorus until the water dries up. I saw a spotted wing dragonfly there yesterday, but it flew away before I could make an ID.
So now I have a female Common Whitetail, an immature male Common Whitetail – all I need to photo now is a mature male Common Whitetail. I’ll keep my eyes open!
I do agree we have interesting dragonflies here; I have photos of reds, other blues, other spotted wings, small sizes, medium sizes, and a giant (as big as my hand!) green that reminds me of Cyclops. I have a few marvelous photos of Damselflies as well. I’ll send some more photos later this summer.
Thank you, again. I appreciate your time and attention to making these identifications for me.
Blessings to you!
Letter 3 – Decapitated Dragonfly
Weird Mutant Dragonfly Hybrid in NC?
Location: Central North Carolina
April 10, 2012 5:04 pm
Please identify this weird mutant dragonfly insect i found laying in my driveway in central NC. Thanks!
This is a Dragonfly, and though it is not a mutant, it has been decapitated. We have posted a photo in the past of a decapitated Dragonfly, and the culprit was a European Hornet.
Letter 4 – Common Whitetail Dragonfly
Male Common Whitetail… though from the shot, I’m more inclined to say "Bluetail"
I found the ID for this one already.. it’s a male Common Whitetail. I know you already have this fella on your website, but I caught a surprisingly sharp shot of one today and thought I might send it in. He was buzzing frantically around my screened-in porch. After this shot, I caught him and took him out. He was very appreciative.
Kelli Savage, Richmond VA.
Your photo of Plathemis lydia, a Common Whitetail male is quite dramatic.
Letter 5 – Common Whitetail Dragonfly
Common Whitetail Dragonfly Photo
I took this picture of what I think is a Common Whitetail Dragonfly that buzzed past me while I was working in the garden. Thought you might like this shot! Thanks for the buggy goodness!
michele from upstate NY
Your photo of a Common Whitetail is a welcome addition to our Dragonfly pages.
Letter 6 – Comet Darner
What kind of dragonfly?
Can you help me identify this dragonfly? New to this site! Thanks,
We always welcome new readers. Though we often have difficulty identifying dragonflies to the species level, we are confident that this is a Common Green Darner, Anax junius, as evidenced by images on BugGuide.
Correction: Sat, Feb 21, 2009 at 2:26 AM
If I may add a correction, this is a Comet darner (Anax longipes), a rather young male, with the orange abdomen, green thorax and forhead without the round spot, called bull’s eye, that the Green darner have.
I hope this helps,
Letter 7 – Clubtail Dragonfly Naiad
Unknown water bug
Location: Northeast Ohio farm pond
September 3, 2010 5:24 pm
My kids found this water bug in our pond trying to net minnows. We live in Northeast Ohio. The bug gets air with its head and when it swims, it shoots water out of its butt like a squirtgun! Very interesting, do you have any ideas?
This is an immature Dragonfly known as a Naiad. It is pretty unique looking and it shouldn’t be too difficult to identify the species.
Letter 8 – Common Tigertail Dragonfly from Zimbabwe
Location: Zimbabwe, Kariba
September 13, 2010 7:55 am
Hi, I saw this dragonfly in Zimbabwe at lake Kariba and would love to know the name.
We will post your image of a Dragonfly from Zimbabwe in the hopes that our readership will be able to assist in the identification.
Moments after posting, we received a comment that this is a Common Tigertail. The Greg Lasley Nature Photography website indicates: “The Common Thorntail (Ceratogomphus pictus) is a widespread dragonfly found throughout South Africa. Its range extends northward to the Congo and Zambia.”
Letter 9 – Darner
Location: Buxton, Maine USA
January 24, 2011 1:17 pm
I found this dragonfly in my mother’s garden in Buxton, Maine USA. I looked through all the dragonfly posts you had on this site but could not find one that looked just like it. Can you identify the species? Thank you!
Signature: Cheryl Mitchell
It seems whenever we attempt to identify a Dragonfly, someone writes in to correct us. For some reason, Dragonflies are a real identification challenge for us. We believe this is a Darner in the family Aeshnidae. See BugGuide for the species possibilities.
Letter 10 – Clubtail Dragonfly Exuvia
Tricky Bug ID Request
Location: Wekiva River, Orlando, Florida
July 7, 2011 10:59 pm
Hi there! My husband found this eviscerated bug while kayaking in Wekiva Springs. He grabbed it for me, as I am an amateur entomologist and love to collect and identify insects. I’m stumped! The insect was on the underside of a lilly pad, hanging from a web. I’’m assuming a spider had a delicious lunch! I tried to identify it, but to no avail. It seems like it’s been dead for some time, and there are no wings left. It is about 3 inches long, and the body is about 3/8” wide. It has 6 legs. I don’t know if there’s enough left to make a guess as to what it is. I was thinking some kind of dragonfly. I would really appreciate any guidance you might be able to provide.
This is the Exuvia of a Dragonfly, though we are not sure which species. An Exuvia if the cast off skin left behind when an insect or other arthropod molts. The immature Dragonfly is an aquatic nymph known as a naiad. When it nears maturity, it will climb out of the water onto a reed or other plant, or sometimes the side of a dock, and there is will molt for the final time. After its wings expand, dry and harden, it flies away leaving the “eviscerated” Exuvia behind. In your lateral view, the opening where the crack in the exoskeleton occurred allowing the winged adult to wriggle free is plainly visible in the thoracic region. Your ventral view gives a nice view of the extendable lower mandible that the naiad uses to capture its aquatic prey. The only Exuvia we receive more identification requests for than the Dragonfly is that of the Cicada.
Wow! That’s amazing! I didn’t even think about that. Makes sense, I watch my caterpillars molt all the time. I can’t even begin to tell you how long I searched that. Thank you so much for your help! I had made a friendly bet with my husband about what insect it was, so now I get a nice “I told you so!”. I really appreciate your help on this. And to think I was worried that it would be a pain for you to id!
Letter 11 – Darner from Tanzania
Subject: Identification Request
Location: Arusha Tanzania
February 1, 2017
Apologies for not replying earlier, I have been away travelling with no access to internet and so this was a wonderful surprise to find on my return!
Thank-you very much for identifying these insects. There were many others of interest during my time in East Africa, and I only wish I had my camera with me more often. However, it has served to develop my interest and so I am more observant these days with what I find around me wherever I am in the world. And knowing the correct species ameks a world of difference to conducting further research and learning more about these fascinating creatures.
I have been enjoying browsing your website and think you offer a fantastic service, so I hope you enjoy the identification process too as you help people like me.
Did you manage to identify the last individual (attached)? It too was quite spectacular! (seen in Arusha, Tanzania late 2008)
We believe your Dragonfly is a Darner in the family Aeshnidae, but we did not find any visual matches on iSpot.
Letter 12 – California Darner, we believe
Subject: What is that bug
Geographic location of the bug: San diego CA
Time: 10:00 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: This bug was in my garden for a few days in the same spot. But now he is gone. what happened?
How you want your letter signed: San Diego
Dear San Diego,
We believe your Dragonfly is a California Darner, Rhionaeschna californica, and based on the images posted to Odonata.bogfoot.net, it is an immature male. Additional images can be found on BugGuide. We suspect it is gone because it flew away.
Letter 13 – Common Darter from the UK
Subject: Common Darter
Location: Bristol, UK
July 31, 2017 2:05 am
I thought you might like this picture for your archive. It is a male Common Darter – the picture was taken at the same pool I saw the Emperor that you kindly added last week.
Your image of the male Common Darter, Sympetrum striolatum, is a marvelous addition to our archives. According to British Dragonflies: “Flight Period: July to October (sometimes in May and December) A summer and autumn species, this dragonfly can be found well into November and may be one of the last on the wing in the UK. The thorax in both sexes is brown above with poorly defined antehumeral stripes and yellow panels on the sides. The eyes are brown above and yellow below. The legs are black with a diagnostic yellow stripe along their length. Male: becomes a bright orange-red with maturity with small black spots on S8 and S9. Female: pale, yellowish-brown abdomen often developing red markings along the segment boundaries and medial line as they age.”