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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 Moderator Staff 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.