Hand-feeding an injured dragonfly (VIDEO)

Claudine Zap
July 17, 2012

Nothing says summer like the double-winged dragonflies buzzing over lakes, marshes and ponds for food. The two pairs of sheer wings and colorful elongated bodies are eye-catching. They're not just nice to look at; they eat mosquitoes and wasps and other pesky insects. Except when they are injured, like the one in this video posted by Bill Anderson (YouTube handle wjanderso), set to "Chime Out" by Nightmares on Wax.

As the introduction to the video explains, "Noelia found this injured dragonfly on the riverbank of the Willamette. After a few unsuccessful attempts at feeding it, she found one that worked."

The good Samaritan rescued the downed dragonfly, which had a hurt wing. If these insects can't fly, they can't eat—they need their wings to hunt other flying food. So the bug whisperer with the steady hands figured out that the little guy could be fed with tweezers.

The remarkable feeding is a delicate operation, but it appears to be successful. The dragonfly looks on with enormous blue eyes, its squirmy pairs of legs flailing about under the gentle two-fingered grip, as it chomps down its prey. Mmm, live ants. The video has been buzzing online, with more than 29,500 views so far.

One viewer wanted to know, "Do wings ever heal?" Another wondered, "Did it ever fly again?" A third added, "Please give us updates if it gets better!"

Sadly, if a wing is damaged, the insect's airborne future can be bleak. According to a study on the effects of wing injuries on dragonfly flight performance, "wing damage may take a serious toll on wild dragonflies, potentially reducing both reproductive success and survival."

However, Gary F. Hevel, a research collaborator with the Department of Entomology at the Smithsonian, took a look at the video and noted that there is one "unknown."

In an email to Yahoo News, he wrote, "The dragonfly seems to have at least two wings that may not have developed fully. The wings of adults after the last larval molt slowly gain hardness, after which they are capable flyers. In general, 'broken' adult wings in insects do not heal, and their flight after such problems is problematic. However, this adult dragonfly seems to have wings that simply have not yet hardened."

He added, "If my assumption that its wings were not yet hardened is correct, it would normally be expected to be able to fly after the typical act of wing-hardening."