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What Is an Emperor Dragonfly?

By Cynde Gregory
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Anax imperator, the emperor dragonfly, flits and dances throughout Europe, northern Africa, and parts of Asia during the summer months. An especially magnificent dragonfly, the emperor uses its four powerful wings to soar far higher into the sky than many of its smaller cousins. The emperor dragonfly, also called a blue emperor for the shimmering, mosaic-patterned body of the male, is one of the world’s largest dragonflies.

These dragonflies are known for their excellent eyesight and long, narrow abdomens. In the midst of flight, they can see other insects from 40 feet (12.19 meters). On average, the emperor male body is over 3 inches (78 mm) long.

Like other dragonflies, the emperor dragonfly is partial to watery places like ponds and streams where it can find and feed on mosquitoes, ants, and flies. Emperors soar into the heights after flittering butterflies and other types of dragonflies. These are particular delicacies that the emperor will eat while airborne. It will also drop to snag tadpoles from the water’s edge.

Dragonflies, and especially emperors, spend a great deal of their time in the air. When they do come to rest, their wings remain adjacent to their bodies. The males’ translucent blue wings are reminiscent of stained glass and glow in the sunlight.

Males and females mate while airborne. The emperor females, with emerald abdomens, lay their eggs in or near water, usually on aquatic plants. The male is fiercely defensive, chasing away other dragonflies, small birds, and other dangers from any area he considers to be his. The female is highly antisocial and will only lay her eggs when undisturbed.

Emperor dragonfly larvae require water for survival. After hatching, three weeks following deposit, they will eat tiny fish as well as insects and organisms in the water until they are ready to emerge in two years. In fact, most of the emperor dragonfly’s life cycle occurs underwater.

The naiads pull themselves out of the water onto plant leaves and stems when they are ready to break free of their skins as adults and take to the air. This usually occurs in early to mid-June in Britain and other northern parts of Europe where the dragonfly is common. They take to the air immediately, beating their wings 30 times in a single second.

This ancient species of dragonfly can be traced into the mists of time. For over 230 million years, it has remained nearly the same. Part of the charm of these dragonflies is their hummingbird-like flight, including their ability to fly backward and hover, seeming to tease an observer who tries to get too close.

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