Miscellaneous - Sounds Wild
Fire-Breathing Dragonflies


Download Episode: Fire-Breathing Dragonflies (MP3 file 2,818 kB)


Fire Breathing Dragonflies

The discovery of a new species of dragonfly in Alaska has the entomology world buzzing.

The new dragonfly inhabits the remote regions of Northwestern Alaska, and it has a remarkable attribute.

The insect is capable of combustive exhalation, according to Dr. Nat Beedle of the University of Alaska Zoology Department, who discovered the new insect. "Basically, it can shoot fire out its mouth like a blowtorch."

The fire breathing dragonfly has gone undiscovered because it spends most of its life as an aquatic larvae, morphing into adult form to mate. Mating occurs around the summer solstice over water.

"I guess no one noticed the flame shooting out its mouth because of the 24-hour daylight," said Dr. Beedle.

The flame is produced by a biological process similar to a stinkbug's skunk-like excretions, which it squirts at would-be predators. "A fire breathing dragonfly is pretty cool," Dr. Beedle said, "But a beetle that could shoot a flame out its butt would be really awesome."

The fire-breathing dragonflies can control the flame, much as a phaser can be set to stun or kill. Beedle said the low setting is used to cook their food. They'll toast a bumblebee in flight like a marshmallow, Beedle said. The males offer roasted bugs to the females as part of their pre-mating courtship ritual.

Like the stinkbug, the dragonfly uses its power for protection against predators, such as swallows and flycatchers. Beedle said he watched a northern bog swallow swoop over a pond and intercept a fire breathing dragonfly with disastrous results.

"It was vaporized - there was nothing left but the stench of burning feathers," he said.