All of Manitoba’s dragonflies are year-round residents, but no adults survive over winter. Many insects can survive freezing, even to -40 C, but dragonflies cannot. The eggs of certain species, some of the Spreadwing Damselflies (Lestes spp.) and some Skimmers (Sympetrum spp.), can survive freezing, even out of water, so they can breed in small ponds that freeze solid or dry up over winter.

The rest of our species pass winter as nymphs in unfrozen water bodies. Some nymphs can survive exposure to temperatures as low as -5C, and can even live a short while encased in ice, but at these temperatures their body tissues do not actually freeze.

Nymphs of most Manitoba species overwinter at least once. Many species take more than one year to grow to full size. The further north you go in Manitoba, the shorter summers are, and the longer it may take for nymphs to reach full size and emerge as adults. Species that grow to full size in one year in southern Manitoba may take 2 or more years in the far north.

Migration in dragonflies is not well studied. Most dragonflies do not fly great distances as adults. So they are often attracted back to the water body where they emerged. Occasionally, when local dragonfly populations are very high, large groups of adults will fly long distances and colonize new breeding habitat. These one-way mass migrations, have been noted in species such as the Four-Spotted Skimmer (Libellula quadrimaculata) and Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens).

In addition to these occasional mass migrations there may be a dozen or more species in North America that have seasonal migrations. In the simplest case these may be a northerly spread of adults as spring and summer advance northward each year. However, at least one species of dragonfly, the Common Green Darner (Anax junius), has a well defined north-south migration, somewhat like the Monarch butterfly. Adults emerge in the southern United States in the spring and fly north reaching the northern US and southern Canada in late spring. Females lay eggs as they arrive. The nymphs grow rapidly and adults emerge by early autumn and fly south. They will lay eggs in the southern US and their young will emerge the following spring. Like Monarchs, the species migrates, though no one individual makes the round trip. Just to confuse things though, there are also resident northern populations of Common Green Darners that do not migrate.

Recent studies of radio-tagged Common Green Darners during migrations show individuals can fly up to 140 km a day!

In eastern North America, fall migrations of Kestrels (Falco sparverius) sometimes follow the southward migration of Common Green Darners. Concentrations of these large dragonflies provide an abundant food source for these small falcons.

1) Basic Biology

2) Life Cycle

3) Palaeobiology

4) Biodiversity

5) Biogeography

6) Overwintering / Migration

7) Food

8) Sight and Flight

9) Cultural Significance

10) Conservation

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