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State Insect of Washington Lesson: The Green Darner Dragonfly

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The State Insect of Washington: The Green Darner Dragonfly

Washington's state insect is the green darner dragonfly. It was chosen after a campaign by students from Crestwood Elementary School in Kent, WA. The students took part in a process that saw over 100 school districts across the state participate in the choosing of a state insect. The green darner 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.

Washington's state insect is a kind of dragonfly. These insects comprise the order Odonata, a large group of insects that includes all of the world's dragonflies. Within that group, the green darner belongs to the family Aeshnidae. Its full scientific name is Anax junius. This means it belongs to the genus Anax, and its species name is junius.

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!


Get to Know the Green Darner

Darner dragonflies, of which there are several kinds, get their common name from their resemblance to a darning needle used in sewing. Darners are among the largest dragonflies in North America, often achieving wingspans over five inches across. The green darner has a bright green and blue body that seems to glow when it flies in full sun.

All dragonflies are active and agile hunters. 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.

Dragonflies like the green darner use their excellent eyesight to chase down prey in mid-air

Dragonflies like the green darner use their excellent eyesight to chase down prey in mid-air

The green darner has many other common names, although you won't hear them much nowadays. These include "mosquito hawk," and "lord of June," both pretty great band names.

Like all dragonflies, green darners catch and eat mosquitoes and other flying insects. They chase them down and scoop them up with basket-like legs covered in spines. Then they much on their prey with powerful jaws, often while still flying.

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Green darner dragonflies, Washington's State Insect

Green darner dragonflies, Washington's State Insect

Mating and Egg-Laying Behaviors

One of the most interesting things about the green darner, and dragonflies in general, is the fact that they often 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. Occasionally they will lad to rest, but throughout the entire process they stay linked together in a kind of loop.

Similarly, the female lays her eggs by flying just above the water, 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.


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 larva, or nymph

A dragonfly larva, or nymph

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Complete Versus Incomplete 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 green darners, and all dragonflies, are typical of the insects that undergo incomplete metamorphosis, which means they skip 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 from the larval shell and flies away.

A southern hawker, a relative of the green darner, in flight.

A southern hawker, a relative of the green darner, in flight.


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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