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State Insect of Alaska Lesson: The Four-Spotted Chaser Dragonfly

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Alaska's state insect is the four-spotted chaser dragonfly. It was designated in 1995 and is one of hundreds of dragonfly species that are distributed across the United States, and around the world. This article tells you what you need to know about this amazing insect.

The Four-Spotted Chaser Dragonfly's Scientific Name

Alaska's state insect is a dragonfly. These insects comprise the order Odonata, a large group of insects that includes all of the world's dragonflies. Within that group, the four-spotted chaser – it's also known as a "skimmer" – belongs to the family Libellulidae. Its full scientific name is Libellula quadrimaculata. This means it belongs to the genus Libellula, and its species name is quadrimaculata.

As a middle school teacher myself, I wrote this guide to be useful for both students and teachers. It's a great place to start for research ideas and science fair projects!

How Students Helped Choose Alaska's State Insect

The four-spotted chaser became the state insect of Alaska thanks to a determined campaign by students from the Auntie Mary Nicoli Elementary School in Aniak, Alaska. In a fierce competition between the dragonfly, a butterfly, and the mosquito, the dragonfly emerged victorious. Since 1991, the chaser dragonfly has reigned as the states insect representative.

Alaska's State Insect

Alaska's State Insect

Get to Know the Four-Spotted Chaser Dragonfly

This cool-looking dragonfly is also known by the name "skimmer" as well as chaser. The four spots on the wings make for an excellent field identification characteristic; one could argue that it's one of the most attractive of all common dragonfly species.

Despite its good looks, the four-spotted skimmer is known as a highly aggressive insect. The male typically chooses a favorite perch and returns to it after patrolling its territory in fast, swooping flights. These perches are usually a stick or branch that juts out over a pond; scientists who study this insect have found that they prefer a perch that is in the sun, but they face a part of the sky away from the sun. One reason for this behavior may be that it's easier for them to see flying insects with this arrangement.


Mating and Egg-Laying Behaviors

One of the most interesting things about the four-spotted chaser, and dragonflies in general, is the fact that they mate in mid-air. The male and female clasp in such a way that they can keep flying, and presumably stay agile enough to avoid predators. Similarly, the female lays her eggs by flying just above the water -- "skimming" -- and dipping the tip of her abdomen into the water to lay eggs. If you have watched dragonflies in flight around a pond, you have likely witnessed this behavior.

Dragonflies Mating in Mid-Air

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Life Cycle and Larvae

Adult dragonflies are delicate insects with spectacular agility, but the larval stage is a different story altogether. Known as "nymphs," dragonfly larvae are something like the horror-movie version of a caterpillar. They are generally aquatic, meaning they spend most of their time underwater. They are fearsome hunters, equipped with sharp pincers that they use to grab their prey. Depending on their size, dragonfly nymphs eat everything from other insects to tadpoles, minnows, and even small frogs.

It's truly hard to imagine that these spiny, fierce creepy-crawlers grow up to be such graceful adults.

A Dragonfly's Compound Eyes


Adult Prey and Feeding Behaviors

Adult dragonflies chase and catch other flying insects, especially mosquitoes and since Alaska has more than its share of mosquitoes, it makes sense that it's Alaska's state insect). For this reason, they need to be excellent flyers with equally sharp vision – if you look at the dragonfly's head, you will see that most of it is taken up by the insect's enormous eyes. Those eyes are compound, meaning they are comprised of hundreds of individual lenses that work together to give the dragonfly the acute eyesight it needs to see, track, and catch its prey.

Dragonflies catch their prey in mid-air by forming a sort of basket with their spiny legs. They scoop up their target with this remarkable evolutionary adaptation.

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An Excellent Video About the Four-Spotted Chaser

Complete Metamorphosis

"Complete metamorphosis" is the term used to describe the life cycle of insects that go through a four-stage sequence of forms. For butterflies, this means egg-larva-cocoon/chrysalis-adult. It helps to take the butterfly as the example, although dragonflies, bees, wasps, flies, beetles, and many other insects also go through complete metamorphosis. Like butterflies, they all have larvae and all of the other developmental stages.

The four-spotted chaser dragonfly is typical of the insects that undergo complete metamorphosis, although it generally skips the pupa stage. The egg is laid on the surface of water, often a pond or stream. The larva hatches out and begins to feed on underwater insects and small animals. When it's full-grown, it crawls out onto dry land, where the adult hatches out and flies away.

A four-spotted chaser dragonfly perching

A four-spotted chaser dragonfly perching

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The following sources were used for this article:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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