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BYU Students Tracking 6,300 Dragonfly Species

By Christie Allen

March 2023

Dragonfly family tree: BYU-NSF study ancient fliers, modern survivors

To catch a dragonfly in a net, the best strategy is to approach from below and move swiftly, according to BYU biology graduate student Natalie Saxton.

“You kind of just have to swing as fast as you can,” she said. That’s because dragonflies’ enormous eyes offer a 300-degree view of the world, and the insects are the original and probably best fliers on the planet, with wings capable of such precise movement that engineers have studied them to improve drone flight.

Saxton is part of a team of BYU biologists that has been tracking down this fascinating insect around the world, from Vietnam to the islands of Vanuatu. Their goal is to piece together the first-ever phylogenic (genealogical) tree of all 6,300 known dragonfly species and their ancestors.

Photo of a tan dragonfly outdoors
While dragonflies may look colorful to the human eye, dragonflies look much more colorful to each other — their eyes have about 10 times more color-detecting proteins than human eyes.  

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