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This Week’s Creature Feature ... Dragonflies Catch ­Dinner and Some Rays

Perched to take advantage of the sun

Long before dinosaurs walked the earth, dragonflies took to the air.
    Griffenflies, the gigantic precursors of our modern-day dragonflies, took flight in the Carboniferous period over 300 million years ago.
    Their descendants have had plenty of time to spread around the world. Ancient Celts called them big needle of wings. In England, they’re water dippers. In China, old glassy.
    Last summer, a pair of dragonflies would fly around my pool and often land, and perch, on my big toe. This summer, one perches atop the wooden clothespins on my clothesline. Staring at me with bulging bug eyes, it seems content to watch me hang laundry out to dry.
    In reality, this perching dragonfly is simply doing what it does best.
    Dragonflies subdivide into fliers and perchers. Both sorts are ectotherms as are all insects, meaning they are cold-blooded creatures that get heat from outside their body.
    Fliers patrol by flying back and forth in search of insects for a meal or other dragonflies to mate with. The rapid whirring movement of their wings warms up their bodies.
    Perchers like the one on my clothespins rest on perches, keeping watch for potential prey, predators, members of their own species and me.
    Perchers rely on solar energy for warmth and position their bodies skillfully to maximize the surface area exposed to the sun’s rays.
    During hot spells, dragonflies position their bodies to minimize sun exposure and use their wings to deflect the sun.
    When it’s cooler, dragonflies use their wings as reflectors, tilting them to direct the solar radiation toward their bodies.
    The one that perches on my clothespins uses the sun’s rays beating down directly on my clothesline for warmth. It’s soaking up solar rays, right alongside my laundry.