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Master Hunter Dragonflies Kill Prey 95 Percent Of The Time

Apr 04, 2013 05:20 PM EDT
A dragonfly sits on a twig in Studencice September 26, 2009
(Photo : Reuters)

Apex predators like lions, tigers and sharks are often thought of as deadly creatures - and they are, no doubt. But when it comes to being the most effective hunter in the animal kingdom, their numbers don't fare nearly as well as the dragonfly, which research suggests might be the most effective hunter in the animal kingdom.

Dragonflies are brutally effective killers, managing to capture their prey in midair more than 95 percent of the time, according to a New York Times report.

Compare that with a 50 percent success rate of a great white shark or a meager 25 percent for an African lion.

Flies and other insects who encounter a dragonfly are met with a grim end.

"They'll tear up the prey and mash it into a glob, munch, munch, munch," said Michael L. May, an emeritus professor of entomology at Rutgers, according to the report. "It almost looks like a wad of snuff in the mouth before they swallow it."

The dragonfly is such an elite predator it can be missing an entire wing and still capture prey, the paper reported.

Such precision is made possible in part by the dragonfly's human-like capacity for selective attention; in killers can pick a single target out of a swarm and stay locked on it until the end.

"It suggests the possibility of a top-down process of selective attention of the sort we normally associate with high order thinking," said  Steven Wiederman of the University of Adelaide in Australia. "So here we have a simple brain of less than a million neurons behaving like our own brain of 100 billion neurons." 

That the dragonfly is pretty much hardwired to be a killer also helps. There is a master circuit of 16 neurons that connect the dragonfly's brain to its flight motor center in the thorax, the Times reports, enabling the hunter to track a moving target, calculate an intercept trajectory and subtly adjust its path if needed, making the small hunter even more deadly. 

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