The nature of a dragonfly: weigher of souls | Helen Sullivan

The nature of a dragonfly: weigher of souls | Helen Sullivan

Upside down, they resemble a pair of scales

Dragonflies have a near-perfect hunting record, successfully grabbing their prey in mid-air 95% of the time: they do this while flying skywards, earthwards, side to side, backwards and upside down. In one experiment, a dragonfly with numbers drawn on its clear wings alights backwards from a reed, legs raised above its head like a person making an offering to God, and scoops up the bug flying behind it. The dragonfly appears to catch its prey both benevolently and malevolently: snatching it and saving it, like a ball or a falling baby.

Dragonflies transform from their larval stage with similarly precise acrobatics: the skin splits, the insect wriggles its head and chest out with the awkwardness of someone trying to get into a sleeping bag while standing up, and then it hangs upside down for a while, its tail still trapped in the skin. The almost-dragonfly regains its strength, then does an upside down sit-up at the same time it pulls and flicks its tail out: a perfectly controlled dismount, a precisely calibrated monkey acrobat toy.

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