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What Do Dragonflies Eat?

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How dragonflies got their name remains a mystery. These agile insects evolved 300 million years ago, making them one of the first winged insects on the planet. Some fossilized dragonflies have a wingspan of over two feet.

Dragonfly Common Diet

Adult dragonflies and dragonfly nymphs typically eat mosquitoes and midges but eat almost any insect they can catch, like flies, bees, wasps, and sometimes butterflies. They will even eat each other. Nymphs, or baby dragonflies, often eat tadpoles and small fish. Dragonflies won’t eat any grasses.

Dragonflies love eating and usually consume around 15% or more of their body weight in food each day. Sometimes they eat their full-body weight’s worth of food in half an hour. That’s as much as we consume in a whole week when comparing sizes.

In fact, a single dragonfly can eat anywhere from 30 to well over 100 mosquitoes a day. They are the best pest control insects ever. Many consider dragonflies one of the deadliest predators on the planet.

hairy dragonfly on a leaf

What is the Difference Between a Dragonfly and Damselfly?

When raising insects, it’s important to understand what they are so you can create the perfect environment for them.

Dragonflies come from the Anisoptera suborder. The word means ‘unequal winged.’ They are much larger than their closely related cousins and can live inland.

Dragonflies have bulky bodies and tend to splay their wings out at right angles to their bodies when resting. Their large eyes usually touch. They have front wings that are longer and slimmer than their back wings, hence the name.

Dragonfly larvae don’t have plates, called lamellae, on the outside of their abdomens, unlike Damselflies.

Damselflies are from the Zygoptera suborder. It means ‘pair-’ or ‘equal-winged’. All four of their wings are similar in shape and size.

Damselflies aren’t as strong or big as dragonflies and usually live close to the water. They fold their wings along their abdomens when resting.

Another significant difference is that a damselfly’s eyes never touch. They also have lamellae that act as gills.

female damselfly on a leaf

How Do Adult Dragonflies Catch Their Prey?

Dragonflies are agile hunters that catch up to 95% of their prey. That’s four times more than a lion and twice as much as a great white shark.

Dragonflies have one of the most sophisticated flying capabilities of all insects. Even the robotics engineers are trying to build bots that fly like these magnificent fliers.

Dragonflies only catch their prey while flying. They can:

  • Hover in place
  • Move up or down
  • Fly straight up like a helicopter
  • Turn in tiny spots

Dragonflies also have thrust mechanisms that help them accelerate in an instant to catch their prey. Smaller species reach around 10 miles per hour, while larger ones can fly as fast as 30 miles per hour.

They have giant eyes that pretty much cover their whole heads, giving them complete vision except for directly behind them.

Dragonflies use various techniques to catch their prey.


Dragonflies that use this technique hover over vegetation, either near water or further inland. They patiently scout for any prey resting on leaves, stems, or branches.

Young adult dragonflies like to catch caterpillars that hang from silken threads in the trees. Most damselflies that live near ponds or dams are gleaners.


Like hawks, as the name suggests, some dragonflies fly about looking for prey along their path. With deft speed and grace, they nab other flying insects right out of the air.

They form baskets with their legs, overtake their prey, and scoop them up into their mouths without even pausing for an instant.

Other dragonfly species that use the hawking technique simply catch their prey straight into their mouths. Dragonflies that use the hawking technique include:

  • Darners
  • Emeralds
  • Gliders
  • Saddlebags


To ‘sally’ means to charge suddenly out of a commandeered spot. That’s how some dragonflies like to hunt their prey.

They will perch in complete stillness, waiting for the perfect prey to fly past before lifting off and catching them mid-air.

Dragonflies that use the sallying hunting technique include:

  • Skimmers
  • Clubtails
  • Dancers

Spread Wing and Broad Wing Damsels also use this method.

Be sure to check what dragonflies you have so you know which hunting technique they use. It will help you provide the perfect diet and hunting ground for them.

orange dragonfly resting on small branch

What About Baby Dragonflies?

Baby dragonflies, also called nymphs, are larvae that live underwater for almost two years. Some species will stay underwater for as long as six. They molt about 17 times during their developing years.

Dragonfly nymphs catch any and all aquatic insects when hunting. They will eat tadpoles and small fish, like minnows, as they mature.

They usually hide among the vegetation, silently waiting for their prey to swim past. Like adult dragonflies, they have super speed and agility.

Dragonfly nymphs will unfurl their labiums and quickly thrust them out to ensnare their desired prey. Some use a pointed palp to stab their food. Others use specialized mouthpieces to scoop unsuspecting critters into their mouths.

After they fully develop, dragonfly nymphs will leave the water, shed their exoskeleton, and release their wings. It takes a few hours or days for dragonflies to dry off.

dragonfly on a stalk covered with dew in morning

Do Dragonflies Need to Drink Water?

Most dragonflies get their water straight from their prey but will sometimes drink from water droplets and surfaces.

Things You Can Feed a Pet Dragonfly

The food you give your pet dragonfly or damselfly depends on where they are in their developmental cycle. Here are a few ideas to keep your insect friends happy.

Dragonfly and Damselfly Nymphs

  1. Aquatic insects like water striders, mayflies, and caddisflies.
  2. Underwater vertebrates like small fish
  3. Amphibians
  4. Tadpoles

Adult Dragonflies and Damselflies

  1. Mosquitoes
  2. Midges
  3. Moths
  4. Flies
  5. Caterpillars
  6. Worms
  7. Asian breeds will also eat spiders

Final Thoughts

Dragonflies are revered in many cultures around the world. Japanese Samurai would use dragonfly designs on their helmets because they believed it showed invincibility. In some Native American tribes, dragonflies were symbols of a good harvest.

Dragonflies are mysterious creatures with impressive agility and speed. They predominantly eat mosquitoes and midges but will eat other insects, including other dragonflies or damselflies.

If you’re keeping them as pets, it’s best to feed them a diet of mosquitoes and worms. Nymphs can eat aquatic insects, plus tadpoles and small fish.

Make sure they are alive because dragonflies only catch their prey while in flight.


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