Together with the Mayflies (Ephemeroptera), dragonflies make up the Palaeoptera, a primative group of insects characterized by aquatic larvae and the possession of wings with complex venation and no wing-folding hinge. The first Odonata fossils were found in sediments from the Lower Permian, which are over 250 million years old. These fossils belong to relatively small Protoanisopterans and Zygopterans (damselflies). The latter seem to have changed little in structure and appearance since then. Dragonflies became really promanent in warm tropical regions about 250-300 million years ago during the Carboniferous period. By the beginning of the Jurassic many of the extant modern families had already appeared. The Carboniferous period is well known for it giant dragonflies, known as the Meganeuridae, which belongs to an ancestral group known as the Protoanisoptera. In addition to the dramatic difference in size between the Meganeuridae and its modern relatives, there are several other distinguishing characteristics. Modern dragonflies lack certain wing features including the nodus and pterostigma (see figure). Some of the largest fossils, with wing-spans of up to 70 centimetres come from Commentry in France, but a 50 centimetre specimen was found by Whalley (1980) at Bolsover in Derby. Previous to this discovery the largest specimen found on the British Isles was the Radstock Giant Dragonfly. These must have been impressive giants and their existence poses interesting questions about how they flew, how they avoided over heating, and what they ate?
Author: Andre Butler
Last updated: 20th November 2005
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