Does a Dragonfly Bite? A Comprehensive Analysis

When you think of dragonflies, their iridescent wings and acrobatic flight come to mind. For a long time, dragonflies have been objects of curiosity or sometimes fear due to myths about biting or stinging.

This blog post looks at the truth about these misconceptions that surround this insect’s behavior, its life cycle, and its importance in our ecosystems.

Understanding Dragonflies’ Characteristic

Having elongated bodies, large compound eyes, and four transparent wings; Odonata1 are the insects they belong to.

They can perch on vegetation with their six legs but cannot walk over the ground effectively. These creatures are powerful flyers that fly near water bodies while hunting and where they lay their eggs.

dragonfly
Photo by Dylan Hunter on Unsplash

The Dragonfly Sting Myth

Different cultures have given dragonflies some interesting names such as ‘Devil’s Darning needle’ and ‘Horse stinger’, indicating that these insects are harmful to humans in any way.

Nevertheless, it should be understood that these names are more folklore than scientific realities. We will try to find out if there is any truth in the claim that some dragonflies bite people or sting human beings.

Life Cycle of Dragon Flies

This species of dragonfly goes through three amazing stages namely egg, larva (also called a nymph2), and adult before becoming a full-blown dragonfly. Understanding these stages is fundamental to comprehending how dragonfly larvae behave.

Dragonfly larvae

After being laid usually around water bodies, eggs hatch into larvae. The larval stage lives underwater and can last from several days up to many years, depending on the species. As fierce predators, dragonfly larvae eat organisms like small fish, among others found in aquatic environments.

dragonfly
Photo by Atul Bhat on Unsplash

Adult Dragon Flies

On completion of its larval period metamorphosis3 occurs transforming it into an adult form. Flying ability and preying on other flying insects mainly classify adults of this insect group.

Characteristics of Adult Dragon Flies

Adult dragonflies have elongated bodies, two pairs of wings, and six legs. In comparison to other insects that fly, dragonflies can move their four wings independently allowing them to maneuver easily.

Hunting and Feeding Habits

Dragonflies are very effective hunters who seize prey in mid-air with their legs following sharp eye captures. Their feeding habit is beneficial to humans as it reduces pest numbers.

Dragon Flies in the Ecosystem

The role played by dragonflies in maintaining ecological systems cannot be underrated. The food chain has a place for them as both predators and prey. Dragonflies eat mosquitoes, flies, and other small insects. However, they also become prey to birds, large insects, frogs, and fish.

How Dragonflies Control Populations of Flying Insects

This is because they are mosquito predators that prey on flies and various other flying insect types. It is worth noting that these benefits are especially significant in areas where the diseases spread by mosquitoes affect people’s health.

frog
Photo by Ed van duijn on Unsplash

Interactions With Other Species

Dragonflies also fall prey to birds, amphibians, fish, and larger insects. Such a presence of larger species indicates that an ecosystem is healthy. Through both larval and adult stages, the life cycle of this group involves interactions with other species, which influence their habitats’ dynamics.

Can Dragonflies Bite or Sting?

Whether dragonflies bite or sting is one question many people ask themselves. Firstly we look at the behaviors of these insects.

Debunking the Myth

Dragonflies do possess mandibles for biting. But they rarely bite people, and only when they are provoked in case of self-defense. A dragonfly’s bite is non-venomous and often results in nothing more than a minor irritation on human skin.

Understanding Dragonfly Behavior

In their natural habitat, dragonflies don’t show any aggression to humans. They may come close due to curiosity or even land on one but this is not aggressive behavior. Instead of humans, dragonflies prey on insects.

Always treat the delicate dragonflies with care and respect as one would be dealing with any other fragile creature. Therefore, if you ever get bitten by a dragonfly calm down first before carefully removing it away without hurting yourself or even the insect.

dragonfly
Image by hartono subagio from Pixabay

To conclude the idea that such insects sting or bite human beings is mostly false; although able to bite they hardly do so; only as an act of self-defense. In our ecosystem, they are beneficial insects that help to control pests, among others. Therefore, the next time you see and catch a fly appreciate it is good looks and how wonderfully it flies knowing that it will not attack you.

Dragonfly Bites and Treatment

Generally, there is no need to panic if you happen to be bitten by a mosquito hawk4. Most often the bite will just cause some redness, swelling, or itchiness which should disappear within a short time without treatment.

So what can be done in case one gets bitten by a mosquito hawk? Here are some steps;

1. Wash the affected area using mild soap and water to cleanse the site where it has been bitten.

2. For pain relief put cold compresses wrapped in towels on swollen areas.

3. Use over-the-counter anti-itch creams or take oral antihistamines5 for itching bites if any develop after being attacked by these insects.

4. Keep your wound clean and avoid scratching it so that bacteria do not infect the open wound caused by scratching mosquito bites too hard.

5. In case of any severe allergic reactions such as difficulties in breathing, swelling on the face or throat, and dizziness, it is a call for immediate medical intervention.

aid
Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Consequently, while dragonflies can bite, they rarely do so and hardly ever pose a threat to humans. Understanding their behaviour and showing respect for dragonfly life cycle and their natural environment can help facilitate a harmonious existence among human beings and dragonflies.

The Takeaway

In conclusion, although dragonflies can bite their flying prey, they cannot sting humans nor pose any danger. The fears around these insects are not true; instead, we should appreciate them for what they contribute to our biology.

Next time you see one, take a moment to take in its beauty and acknowledge its importance in our world. They are helpful species that assist in controlling pests in our ecosystems especially if we live near mosquito-prone areas where people stand the risk of contracting diseases from them.

Birds, frogs, fish, and other larger insects also prey on dragonflies. These species indicate a healthy ecosystem because they interact with other species as larvae and adults to influence habitat dynamics.

Usually, if you suffer a dragonfly bite, there is nothing to worry about. Sometimes the bitten site may become red, swollen, or itchy but these symptoms should disappear within a short period. To treat a dragonfly bite, mild soap and warm water can be used to clean the affected area to clear the bite.

You can reduce swelling by applying a cold compress or ice pack wrapped in a cloth; this will also relieve any discomfort. In case you have an itchy bite, use OTC anti-itch cream or take oral antihistamines to relieve itching. One must ensure not hurting the site while keeping it free from dirt.

However such severe allergic reactions like breathing difficulties, swelling of the face or neck and even fainting should make one run for the nearest hospital.

In conclusion, although biting is possible for dragonflies; rarely does it occur with no harm being caused to human beings. Getting to larger dragonflies and knowing their behavior while respecting their natural habitat will mean that people will find peace living alongside dragonflies.

Therefore whenever you see a dragonfly next time around just admire its beauty and wonder how it can move with such great speed through the air only to find out very few dragonflies that it poses no threat to humans at all.

does a dragonfly bite
Photo by James Wainscoat on Unsplash

FAQs about Dragonfly Bites and Their Myths

Q: Do dragonflies sting?

A: No. They do not have stings and therefore cannot sting anyone.

Q: Do dragonfly bites pose a danger?

A: Generally such bites are harmless when related to humans though sometimes there might be redness, swelling, or itchiness that usually subside after some time on its own without any medication.

Q: How do you treat a dragonfly bite?

A: Using mild soap and warm water to clean the bite site is one of the treatments for a dragonfly bite. A cold compress or ice pack can be applied on top of the bite through a piece of cloth to help relieve pain and reduce swelling.

OTC anti-itch cream can be used in case the bites itch or oral antihistamines can also provide relief from itching. It should however be kept healthy by not washing it with dirty hands.

Q: Is there a possibility that dragonfly bites result in allergies?

A: Although rarely encountered, some people might suffer severe allergic reactions when bitten by dragonflies. If you begin to have difficulty breathing, swelling on your face or neck area, or dizziness, seek medical help immediately.

Q: Can humans get sick from dragonflies?

A: No way! Dragonflies do not transmit any diseases to man. Instead, they act as an important biological control mechanism that helps in dealing with pests like mosquitoes that carry diseases such as malaria.

Sources:

  1. Suárez‐Tovar, C. M., et al. “Dragon colors: the nature and function of Odonata (dragonfly and damselfly) coloration.” Journal of Zoology 317.1 (2022): 1-9. ↩︎
  2. Piersanti, Silvana, et al. “The antennal pathway of dragonfly nymphs, from sensilla to the brain.” Insects 11.12 (2020): 886. ↩︎
  3. Kietzka, G. J., Pryke, J. S., Gaigher, R., & Samways, M. J. (2021). Congruency between adult male dragonflies and their larvae in river systems is relative to spatial grain. Ecological Indicators124, 107390. ↩︎
  4. Schilling, Emily Gaenzle, et al. “Phenological and isotopic evidence for migration as a life history strategy in Aeshna canadensis (family: Aeshnidae) dragonflies.” Ecological Entomology 46.2 (2021): 209-219. ↩︎
  5. Linton, S., Hossenbaccus, L., & Ellis, A. K. (2023). Evidence-based use of antihistamines for treatment of allergic conditions. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. ↩︎

Last Updated on by Sathi Chakraborty, MSc Biology

Authors

Saket Kumar
Sathi Chakraborty, MSc Biology
  1. Even though we have ever been told since childhood that insects like dragonflies and Cockroaches dont bite, I have always been really afraid of them. The article provides the conclusion that dragon flies dont bite but its better to be careful because they can cause allergies.

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