I’ve always thought dragonflies were fascinating, ever since I was a little kid. I remember finding one in the grass and being amazed at how large it was. Little did I know that dragonflies (or damselflies, as a related group of insects is called) could get even larger. Of course, I’d seen pictures of giant prehistoric insects in the time of the dinosaurs, but I assumed that these days dragonflies were all around three inches at the largest.

I was wrong. There are some species of dragon and damselfly that get quite big. Today’s animal, the giant helicopter damselfly, is the largest dragon or damselfly. It can be found in Central and South America, from Mexico to Bolivia. It lives in densely forested regions, where there is lots of moisture and rainfall.

Though really thin, these are actually the biggest damselflies in the world.
Image by Steven G. Johnson, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The wingspan of the helicopter damselfly can reach 19 cm. That’s right, a damselfly with a wingspan of almost 20 cm. How would you like that flying at your face? I bet it would hurt. The wings of the helicopter damselfly are mostly clear, with a metallic-blue band on each wing. The band is surrounded by strips of white on either size. Males are bigger than females, with body lengths of up to 10 cm.

Other than being so big they might scare the bejeezus out of me if I saw one, the helicopter damselfly is probably the perfect animal for me. You see, it feeds on spiders. Those of you who are regulars to this blog know of my morbid fear of these eight-legged abominations, if you’re new, know this: there is no animal on this earth I fear more than spiders. So I’m strongly considering grabbing a few helicopter damselflies to patrol my garden for me. The damselfly flits around the forest, looking for webs, and when it sees one, it hovers for a moment until the spider has been located. Then it swoops in, grabs the spider and yanks it from the web, retreating to a nearby perch to eat the thing, first removing its legs. Simply delightful.

One of the main reasons the helicopter damselfly lives in wet forests is for breeding purposes. The eggs are laid in tree holes that are full of water, as the young (called naiads) grow in water. Large deposits of water in trees are closely defended by males, who mate with females before she deposits her eggs. The eggs are all laid at the same time, but hatch over a large span, sometimes as long as half a year. Once hatched, the naiads are carnivorous, feeding on any larvae they can find in the tree hole, including their brethren. Around forty days after hatching, the naiads undergo metamorphosis and transform into a beautiful adult.

I really did not know much about any dragon or damselfly before this post, which is quite the shame. I have a much greater appreciation for the group now, especially since the giant helicopter damselfly isn’t the only species that eats spiders…

Cover image by Katja Schulz from Washington, D. C., USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons, cropped to fit