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Dragonflies in Captivity

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by zooboy28, 21 Jun 2016.

  1. zooboy28

    zooboy28 Moderator Staff Member

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    I haven't seen this discussed elsewhere, but if it has been please let me know.

    Do any zoos display captive dragonflies? They are large, attractive insects, with interesting behaviours and are very active, so should make a good display. However, they are predatory, so would need live food sources. Obviously wild dragonflies could be found at some zoos, and some encourage them for a wild exhibit, but are any truly captive?

    I presume they are captive bred for specimens, but can anyone confirm this? I'd like to know how long they live as well.
     
  2. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member

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  3. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

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    I'm so confused - a DavidBrown thread started by zooboy28 with a reply by DavidBrown!

    If you Google "breeding dragonflies captivity" some vague results pop up, including this one:
    Emerald Dragonflies Return To Illinois After Captivity Breed
    (I think the article is saying they are breeding them in captivity, rather than just hatching and rearing nymphs, but it isn't entirely clear).

    This one too, which I haven't read (it's basically just the title): http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2:235891&dswid=3234
     
  4. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

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    I just looked up lifespans too (in the book Dragonflies of the World by Jill Silsby). The larval stage is anywhere from just over a month to six or seven years, depending on species and climate. The adult lives for as little as two days up to a year, depending on the same factors.
     
  5. gentle lemur

    gentle lemur Well-Known Member

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    I imagine it could be done, but it would need quite a lot of space because they are intolerant of other individuals. The larvae would have to be reared individually as they would cannibalise each other and they would need aquatic live food. Once they emerge as adults they need several days flying and feeding before they are mature enough to mate, so each would need a fairly large mesh enclosure and a supply of appropriately sized flying insects. I would imagine that mating would be easy to initiate by introducing an adult male into the female's flight: then she would need a laying site for oviposition (the type depends on the species).
    An alternative that might work, and might be very attractive, would be to import well-grown larvae of a small tropical species, perhaps a damselfly rather than a dragonfly, to use as a biological control for small flying insects in an indoor display. I imagine a greenhouse for tropical waterlilies with a population of gnats and aphids, in a fairly large planted pool the larvae could space themselves out and feed on Daphnia, scuds and insect larvae (there would have to be no fish in the pool to avoid competition and predation). The adults would look wonderful on a sunny day and would take the flying insects, but the entrance and exit would need to be darkened and screened like a walk-through aviary.

    Alan
     
  6. temp

    temp Well-Known Member

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    From what I've been told the ones in the Emerald Dragonflies Return To Illinois After Captivity Breed link in Chlidonias earlier post were only captive raised (not bred, contrary to what the article suggests). Brookfield Zoo are indirectly involved.

    I strongly suspect there have been no genuine captive breeding of any species of dragonfly or damselfly. In Europe I've seen quite a few aquarium exhibits showing local pond life that included dragonfly and damselfly larvae, but these were collected (not captive bred) and would presumably be released as soon as the metamorphosis to the adult stage approaches. I may have seen similar exhibits with larvae on other continents too, but if so I've forgotten.

    Sure, in theory you could have an exhibit for adult dragonflies, but the very large space requirements and the difficulty of mixing it with any other species (other insects=prey to dragonfly, birds=prey on dragonfly) makes it a highly problematic candidate. They're not exactly friendly among themselves either. Additionally most species are only really active in good weather, i.e. many days you wouldn't even be able to see them. The best chance might be as a "filler species" in an entirely enclosed crocodile exhibit, but there are numerous other "fillers" that are more suitable for captive life and likely to be more showy. It would also mean that one of the typical aquatic "fillers" in crocodile exhibits, cichlid fish, would have to be excluded (most cichlids would be happy to snack on a dragonfly). Some damselflies, which aren't as voracious as most dragonflies, could perhaps be included in a butterfly hall.
     
    Last edited: 21 Jun 2016
  7. Jurek7

    Jurek7 Well-Known Member

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    London zoo in 1990s kept some giant tropical damselfly in old insect house. They were in large tall terrarium, size of other insect exhibits there. So they really didn't have much room to fly. I think hobbyists rear dragonflies without much problems, too.

    Yes, larvae are solitary, but so are eg. praying mantis or bird spiders. Some adult dragonflies at least are tolerant to each other.

    I think small and mid-sized species at least would be compatible with butterflies, too, for they eat insects much smaller than that.
     
  8. DesertRhino150

    DesertRhino150 Well-Known Member

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    Was just looking around myself for information on captive dragon and damselflies and found this scientific paper about the successful rearing of good numbers of blue-tailed damselflies Ischnura elegans in a laboratory setting. So it certainly is possible to breed these, although the paper also makes clear 'There are no possibilities to rear Anisoptera (dragonflies) in laboratory'.

    A method for rearing a large number of damselflies (Ischnura elegans, Coenagrionide) in the laboratory (PDF Download Available)
     
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  9. Zoovolunteer

    Zoovolunteer Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for finding this paper. Looking at it it looks as though maintaining a captive population of at least some species might be possible, at least for the smaller damselflies. There is increasing study of various dragonflies and damselflies in the wild and it would appear an important consideration would be hunting style and typical prey species. Cultured Drosophila as food for the adults is certainly no problem and once appropriate attention is paid to water conditions and larval food I am sure we might see some interesting exhibits!
     
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  10. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Moderator Staff Member

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    Could they work in one of the huge tropical halls like Burgers Bush?
     
  11. Jurek7

    Jurek7 Well-Known Member

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    As a child I kept quite a some dragonfly larvae in jam jars for several weeks at a time. I think at least one popular book recommended rearing dragonflies as a nice exercise for a child interested in animals. Probably the author meant that larvae cannot be reared in large numbers together because they are cannibals - but see my previous post.
     
  12. DesertRhino150

    DesertRhino150 Well-Known Member

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    I have been looking around for further examples of damselflies being kept or bred in captivity and have found several examples; most belong to the genus Ischnura with some examples from Ceriagrion. I have listed some below, with some basic information that may be of relevance:

    - Rambur's forktail Ischnura ramburii
    This attempt at mass-breeding damselflies (slightly earlier than the attempt on blue-tailed that I posted earlier) seems more labour intensive, as each damselfly is kept individually and transferred to different enclosures to feed and mate.
    https://www.researchgate.net/profil...-Odonata-Coenagrionidae-in-the-Laboratory.pdf

    - Tropical bluetail Ischnura senegalensis
    Perhaps the most interesting thing about this study is that, unlike all the others I have seen it doesn't involve a local native species. The study seems to have taken place in Japan but the species in question is native to tropical Africa. Unfortunately, I cannot find the paper in its entirety anywhere but the details of how they were imported would be interesting (I imagine they travelled as larvae).
    An Error Occurred Setting Your User Cookie

    - Small red damselfly Ceriagrion tenellum
    This species sometimes proved to have a high initial mortality and some were hand-fed as adults to ensure they survived. Also, this species rejected artificial oviposition surfaces such as filter paper used with Ischnura sp., and instead required fragments of live aquatic plants.
    The inheritance of female colour morphs in the damselfly <i>Ceriagrion tenellum</i> (Odonata, Coenagrionidae)

    - Páramo damselfly Ischnura chingaza
    A species only described in 2010 in Colombia, this example is interesting in that it demonstrates how important a good larval food supply is - because the food supply may not have been adequate in this experiment, the adult damselflies were smaller than those observed in the field.
    https://www.researchgate.net/public...captivity_conditions_Zygoptera_Coenagrionidae

    - Coromandel marsh dart Ceriagrion coromandelianum
    These were not reared to adulthood (the experiment made no attempt to; it doesn't seem to have been a failure to do so). They were fed a mixture of mosquito larvae and yeast powder and certainly fed well when kept. A species of dragonfly was also tested, the granite ghost Bradinopyga geminata; this also did well as larvae in a laboratory situation.
    https://www.researchgate.net/public...ellulidae_Zygoptera_Coenagrionidae_Diptera_Cu

    I think tropical damselflies do have the capacity to be kept in zoos, provided they give some time to initially establishing them. Given a bit of effort, I think they could be a real draw for a zoo's insect collection. As mentioned by others above, I'm not sure whether dragonflies would be as easy as damsels because of their more aggressive nature as both adults and larvae.
     
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  13. Kakapo

    Kakapo Well-Known Member

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    Interesting thread! However, zooboy28, dragonflies can't be kept in captivity, or better said, they require a disproportionate invesment that don't worth for animals that for the average zoo visitor will not mean too much. Keep adult dragonflies alive in butterfly house-like spaces is factible, but unlike butterflies, you only kan keep few individuals for a big space, or they will end eating each other until only a few remains. Feeding them maybe the biggest issue: they need a source of FLYING insects, so in the same way to insectivorous bats, swallows/swifts, etc, they can be too expensive to be kept and don't worth the effort.
    The breeding would be another issue. While you can kep the exhibit mentioned above with wild caught adult dragonflies, you can't expect a colony breeding. A greenhouse with a large pond full of potential prey will allow them put eggs (only those species that can choose stagnant waters for breed, that fortunately are many), and nymphs can grow well and turn into adults. But here is where comes the problem. Newly emerged adults are soft and pale and weak for a period of various hours or even various days depending on the species. All of them will invariably end as the meal of the completely hardened and developed adults of the same species!

    Maybe the best thing for a "dragonfly exhibit" would be a damselfly exhibit instead. Damselflies do not require so large territories, sometimes can be found very crowded (according to the species, environment, season, etc), and while cannibalistic too, they are enough small and with enough small territories to avoid predation in a greenhouse without need of a ridiculously large build, an average butterfly house filled with different species of damselflies would be great. Then we could have only two hard issues instead three: the expensive feeding with flying insects (flies, mosquitoes, etc) and the lack of interest of general public, even if big and colorful species are used (like calopterygids).
     
  14. temp

    temp Well-Known Member

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    The species occurs in much of Africa, but also widely in Asia as far east as Japan, i.e. Japanese scientists could source it from their own country.
     
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  15. Dormitator

    Dormitator Well-Known Member

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    Sorry to drag this old thread up again, but I was at a conference a few years ago where there was a poster presented regarding the captive rearing of dragonflies. Was I smart enough to take a photo of it? No. Can I remember the specifics? No. Probably not much use, but from memory:

    The nymphs of the chosen species weren't too difficult to keep (singly!), but development was slow, and labour-intensive - each was reared in a jar alone, with the water partially changed every couple of days. The species they reared took around 2 years to develop, and adults were kept in individual mesh flight cages. Nymphs that looked ready to moult were moved into the cages, with some reed stems added to their jars to give them something to crawl out onto to moult. Adults, once mature, were fed on flies. I don't remember anything on breeding, but I imagine it is fairly straightforward with enough of a water body ( a small aquarium) and air space for mating.

    In short, time consuming and fiddly, but if zoos can rear predatory inverts like spiders individually, I don't see this being that much of a leap forward. Might be a good proof of concept for a zoo with a good invert breeding record (*cough* Bristol) to trial should captive breeding be a possible, useful tool in conserving a particular Odonata species.
     
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