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World Champion Dragonflies

March 9, 2016

One species of dragonfly traverses vast oceans to breed.

Transcript

Greg Lasley The body and wings of the dragonfly Pantala flavescens have evolved in a way that lets the insect glide extraordinary distances on weather currents

The body and wings of the dragonfly Pantala flavescens have evolved in a way that lets the insect glide extraordinary distances on weather currents. (Greg Lasley)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Tiny insects, vast oceans. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The delicate wings of dragonflies belie their propensity to fly great distances, buoyed by the wind. A new genetic study in PLOS ONE suggests that one species, Pantala flavescens – or the the globe skimmer – migrates such vast distances to breed that populations from Canada, India, Japan and beyond are all part of one big closely related family.

JESSICA WARE (Rutgers University):

Our results seem to be suggesting that they probably are crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, vast expanses of open salt water, and that’s remarkable.

HIRSHON:

Rutgers University evolutionary biologist Jessica Ware says such a feat is challenging enough for much hardier birds and whales, and almost certainly leaves the reigning insect migratory champions, Monarch butterflies, in the dust.

WARE:

When you see one, it’s exciting to think where it may have been.

HIRSHON:

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

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Story by Susanne Bard