When considering the different predatory species of Western New York, most people would first think of our larger animals, such as coyotes or Red-Tailed Hawks. However, New York is also home to the most efficient predator in the world: the dragonfly. Our native dragonflies, including species such as the Shadow Darner, represent a group of insects that have a success rate greater than 95% when hunting. In comparison, Great White sharks have a 50% chance of consuming prey that they attack. Despite being considered apex predators, African Lions have an even worse success rate, only being successful 25% of the time after initiating a chase. The Shadow Darner (and other dragonflies) would absolutely be considered the most effective hunter in the world, and by a fairly large margin too.
The Shadow Darner is one of our largest dragonflies, often reaching over three inches in length. The body is mainly colored a dark brown color, with a series of brightly colored spots running down the length of the insect. The spots are different combinations of greens, blues, and yellow. These dragonflies can also be identified by their powerful flight, which is visibly stronger than smaller dragonflies and damselflies.
Like all dragonflies, the Shadow Darner goes through an incomplete metamorphosis, in which a larval stage is present but has many of the same features as the adult stage. The larval stage is called a naiad, and spends several years developing in an aquatic environment. During this time, it is an effective underwater hunter. By squirting water out of the end of its abdomen, it uses jet propulsion to move rapidly through the water. Eventually, the naiad will leave the water (during night to evade predators) and changes into the more familiar adult form.
This species of dragonfly is fairly common along both ponds and slow-moving streams. This is the kind of habitat that is ideal for the Shadow Darner to survive and reproduce. Their population has remained stable, which is good news for anyone who enjoys the outdoors. Not only are the dragonflies a welcome sight, but they help keep the populations of other insects under control. If it wasn’t for the Shadow Darners, there would be many more mosquitos, flies, mayflies, moths, butterflies, and stoneflies present in these habitats.