The New York Times recently published a story about dragonflies and how prolific the flying insects are as hunters. But what probably stood out for most readers was the jaw-dropping footage used to illustrate the piece–notably the super-slow-motion footage showing a spotted skimmer dragonfly evading a predatory leaping frog (watch as the frog believes it has scored an easy meal, only to fall into the water empty-handed).
We asked Dr. Andrew Mountcastle, the Harvard researcher who captured the footage, to share a few details about his photo session and he confessed that he chronicled the event by accident while at a city park in Seattle, filming for a project featuring insect flight.
“Eight spotted skimmers frequently hunt from perches on twigs and rocks near water, so I had focused my camera on one such perch to try to capture take-off and landing sequences,” Mountcastle explained. “As I was waiting for the dragonfly to take off, I briefly looked away, at which point I heard a splash in the water. When I looked back at the perch, the dragonfly was gone and the water underneath the perch was disturbed.
“But fortunately the camera had recorded the entire event. It wasn’t until I reviewed the video that I saw the frog had stolen the scene.”
New research, according to the New York Times, suggests that dragonflies “may well be the most brutally effective hunters in the animal kingdom.”
For example, they manage to snare prey items–flies and mosquitoes, etc.–in midair at an astonishing 95 percent success rate.
Furthermore, they’re surprisingly voracious. Stacey Combes, another Harvard researcher, once watched a dragonfly consume 30 flies in a row.
Their adeptness stems from their ability to calculate a trajectory to intercept their prey, and to adjust that trajectory as needed.
Clearly, judging by the footage, they’re masters of evasion as well.
–To view more of Mountcastle’s movie clips, visit his website