Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
. Earth Science News .

Subscribe free to our newsletters via your

A small dragonfly is found to be the world's longest-distance flyer
by Staff Writers
Newark NJ (SPX) Mar 04, 2016

The body and wings of the dragonfly Pantala flavescens have evolved in a way that lets the insect glide extraordinary distances on weather currents. Image courtesy Greg Lasley. For a larger version of this image please go here.

A dragonfly barely an inch and a half long appears to be animal world's most prolific long distance traveler - flying thousands of miles over oceans as it migrates from continent to continent - according to newly published research.

Biologists at Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N) who led the study - which appears in the journal PLOS ONE - say the evidence is in the genes. They found that populations of this dragonfly, called Pantala flavescens, in locations as far apart as Texas, eastern Canada, Japan, Korea, India, and South America, have genetic profiles so similar that there is only one likely explanation. Apparently - somehow - these insects are traveling distances that are extraordinarily long for their small size, breeding with each other, and creating a common worldwide gene pool that would be impossible if they did not intermingle.

"This is the first time anyone has looked at genes to see how far these insects have traveled," says Jessica Ware, an assistant professor of biology on the faculty of RU-N's College of Arts and Sciences and senior author of the study.

"If North American Pantala only bred with North American Pantala, and Japanese Pantala only bred with Japanese Pantala," Ware says, "we would expect to see that in genetic results that differed from each other. Because we don't see that, it suggests the mixing of genes across vast geographic expanses."

But how do insects from different continents manage to meet and hook up? These are not large birds or whales that one would expect to travel thousands of miles. Ware says it appears to be the way their bodies have evolved. "These dragonflies have adaptations such as increased surface areas on their wings that enable them to use the wind to carry them. They stroke, stroke, stroke and then glide for long periods, expending minimal amounts of energy as they do so."

Dragonflies, in fact, have already been observed crossing the Indian Ocean from Asia to Africa. "They are following the weather," says Daniel Troast, who analyzed the DNA samples in Ware's lab while working toward his master's degree in biology, which he earned at the university in 2015. "They're going from India where it's dry season to Africa where it's moist season, and apparently they do it once a year."

Moisture is a must for Pantala to reproduce, and that, says Ware, is why these insects would be driven to even attempt such a perilous trip, which she calls a "kind of suicide mission." The species depends on it. While many will die en route, as long as enough make it, the species survives.

Flight patterns appear to vary. The hardiest of the dragonflies might make the trip nonstop, catching robust air currents or even hurricane winds and gliding all the way. Others may, literally, be puddle jumpers.

Pantala need fresh water to mate and lay their eggs - and if while riding a weather current they spot a fresh water pool created by a rainstorm - even on an island in the middle of a vast ocean - Ware and Troast say it's likely they dive earthward and use those pools to mate. After the eggs hatch and the babies are mature enough to fly - which takes just a few weeks - the new dragonflies join the swarm's intercontinental and now multi-generational trek right where their parents left off.

For the moment, the details of this extraordinary insect itinerary are an educated best guess, as are specific routes these migrations might take. Much more work is needed to bring many loose ends together. But now that their work has established a worldwide population of intermingling dragonflies, Ware and Troast hope that scientists can work on plotting those routes in earnest. They would need to be innovative, because tracking devices that can be attached to larger animals are far too big to put on insects.

What the Rutgers scientists have discovered puts this dragonfly far ahead of any identified insect competitor. "Monarch butterflies migrating back and forth across North America were thought to be the longest migrating insects," traveling about 2,500 miles each way, says Troast, "but Pantala completely destroys any migrating record they would have," with its estimated range of 4,400 miles or more. It also exceeds Charles Lindbergh's celebrated solo flight from New York to Paris by at least several hundred miles.

Pantala leaves many of its fellow dragonflies even farther behind. The mysteries of evolution are such that while Pantala and its cousin the Green Darner (Anax junius) have developed into world travelers, Ware says that by contrast, other members of the family "don't ever leave the pond on which they're born - traveling barely 36 feet away their entire lives."


Related Links
Rutgers University-Newark
Darwin Today At

Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Previous Report
Lone star tick populations growing in Kansas
Manhattan, Kan. (UPI) Mar 1, 2016
Tick species are on the move all over the country. New research out of Kansas suggests the lone star tick, a bloodsucker named for the state of Texas, is nearing the Colorado border. Until recently, researchers believed the lone star stick was isolated to the eastern third of Kansas. But live specimens have been recovered as far west as Colby, just 55 miles from the Kansas-Colora ... read more

NATO commander says Russia, Syria using migrant crisis as weapon

No go-ahead from Turkey on NATO mission in Aegean: diplomats

Former TEPCO bosses indicted over Fukushima disaster

Screening truffles for radioactivity 30 years from Chernobyl

Bone research could yield stronger synthetic materials

New catalyst makes hydrogen peroxide accessible to developing world

Research demonstrates that air data can be used to reconstruct radiological releases

California researchers reveal how to hack a 3D printer

An integrated evaluation framework for water storage strategies in Sub-Sahara Africa

New research helps solve the riddle of the ocean carbon conundrum

The overlooked commotion of particle motion in the ocean

Syria's Aleppo gets taste of peace but thirsts for water

Australian icebreaker heading home after Antarctica grounding

Australian icebreaker refloated in Antarctica after grounding

OGC requests information to guide Arctic Spatial Data Pilot

Australian icebreaker runs aground in Antarctica

Climate change poised to hurt food supplies: study

NGOs sue Monsanto, EU food safety watchdog over pesticide

University of Guam scientist and colleagues tag coconut rhinoceros beetles

In grasslands, longer spring growing season offsets higher summer temperatures

New theory of deep-ocean sound waves may aid tsunami detection

Guatemala on alert as volcano spews ash over vast area

Philippines affected by more extreme tropical cyclones

Powerful quake in western in Indonesia sparks panic

Rwanda prosecutors demand 22 years in jail in sedition trial

S.African private army protects world's largest rhino farm

US top brass urge tighter W. Africa response to Islamist threat

Kenyan cops busted with illegal ivory

ONR Global sponsors research to improve memory through electricity

Easter Island not destroyed by war, analysis of 'spear points' shows

Neanderthals and modern H. sapiens crossbred over 100,000 years ago

Neanderthals mated with modern humans much earlier than previously thought

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2016 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement All images and articles appearing on Space Media Network have been edited or digitally altered in some way. Any requests to remove copyright material will be acted upon in a timely and appropriate manner. Any attempt to extort money from Space Media Network will be ignored and reported to Australian Law Enforcement Agencies as a potential case of financial fraud involving the use of a telephonic carriage device or postal service.