Next time you’re near a lake or pond, keep your eyes peeled. You might spot one of the world’s fiercest predators—but it’s only a few inches long. Like tiny fighter pilots, dragonflies hunt down other flying insects with deadly efficiency. Most of their prey don’t even see them coming, says Stacey Combes.
Combes studies insects at the University of California, Davis. In one experiment, she released fruit flies near where dragonflies were perching, then filmed the dragonflies in slow-motion to analyze how they hunt. The predators swooped in from behind and below the fruit flies to take the prey by surprise, she says.
Only a few fruit flies escaped the dragonflies’ clutches—usually because they happened to change direction at just the right moment, says Combes. The dragonflies spun right back around to attack again. “You can put yourself in the mind of the prey, and it’s kind of terrifying,” says Combes.