Odonata Giant Fliers

Dragonflies and mayflies are among the most ancient winged insects. Early mayflies are known from the Early Carboniferous; the first dragonflies are known from the Late Carboniferous.

Fossil mayflies had secondary wings that were about the same size as the primary wings. This is unlike modern species, in which the second pair of wings is greatly reduced in size. Also unlike their modern descendants, which do not eat, Paleozoic mayflies had sucking mouthparts for extracting juices from plants.

Dragonflies of the Late Paleozoic are known to have reached enormous sizes compared to extant species. Meganeuropsis, from Late Carboniferous deposits in Kansas, is the largest known fossil dragonfly. It had a wingspan of 29 inches (74 cm), about as wide as an average refrigerator. Like modern dragonflies, Meganeuropsis had two pairs of fixed wings that were held open when the creature was at rest. In Protohymen, the two pairs of wings were nearly equal in size, another feature reminiscent of modern dragonflies. One species, Asthenohymen, probably could fold its stiff wings back over its abdomen when at rest. In Permian dragonflies, the anatomical features associated with flight began to approach the levels of maneuverability, speed, and hovering demonstrated by modern dragonflies. This leads to the conclusion that these large insects had developed into predators that hunted for smaller insects while flying in the air or clinging to the limbs of trees.

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