Structural Brilliance

Reminder:  You can enlarge any of the photos in this blog by clicking on it.  Click again for a full screen image.

The other day I made some new images of a Flame Skimmer dragonfly over at Sabino Canyon.  I was taken by how beautiful this particular dragonfly is and I was going to post the photos for that reason.  But, as I looked at the pictures closely, I realized that they showed a lot more than just the beauty of this insect.

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Look closely at this dragonfly’s wings.  They are a marvel of engineering.  The nearly transparent surface of the wings is stretched across an intricate latticework of supporting tissue, tissue that is so finely engineered as to resemble the supporting structure that underlies the wings of modern jet planes.

Dragonflies are relatively heavy insects and their wing surfaces are relatively small compared to the insects’ mass.  Compare, for example, the wings of a dragonfly to those of a butterfly: the butterfly has bigger wings in proportion to its body than does a dragonfly.  But, a butterfly’s wings are much flimsier than are a dragonfly’s wings.  A dragonfly’s wings are relatively rigid.  They need to be in order to provide thrust and to enable the insect to perform its incredible aerial maneuvers.  A dragonfly can use its wings to fly forward, backward, to hover, to accelerate at an amazing pace, and to brake forcefully.  In fact, no human-designed flying machine can duplicate what a dragonfly is capable of doing.  And, all of that is due to those incredibly designed wings, strong and very light at the same time.

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These tough and light wings have another benefit.  It’s not unusual to see older dragonflies with many rips, tears, and even holes in their wings.  These insects’ high energy lifestyle causes their wings to take a beating.  And, yet, they keep flying, even with considerable damage.  That’s because the overall integrity of their wings isn’t jeopardized by chunks being taken out of them.  Credit that amazing superstructure for that.

Dragonflies have been around for about 250 million years.  They predate most advanced life forms on this planet.  They are older than dinosaurs, mammals, and birds.  It’s possible that a quarter billion years of evolution has given them survival equipment that is as close to perfect as one form of life can achieve.

Pictures taken with a Canon 5Diii, 180 f3.5L Macro Lens, assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, ISO 160, f13 @ 1/160.

2 responses to “Structural Brilliance”

  1. Liesl Kii says :

    We love dragonflies and the Flame Skimmers are our favorites.

    • stevenkessel says :

      They are among mine as well, Liesl. I’m hoping that, before the summer ends, I’ll get some photos of Neon Skimmers (brilliant, deep red) and Roseate Skimmers (bright pink) to go along with those Flames.

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