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Accurate Assassins

May 2, 2013
CharlesLaquidara - Contributing Writer ( , Maui Weekly

What is the deadliest predator in the entire creature kingdom?

No, it is not man. Because, we're talking "stalking accuracy" here--not who kills the most things. And even then, this predator kills more prey faster and with greater accuracy than any humanoids to date.

The great white shark usually catches only half its targeted prey. A lion is successful in only one out of four tries.

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and Another Thing,,,
Charles Laquidara

The answer is dragonflies, those cute, fairy-like creatures buzzing about the garden that my Aunt Ida used to call "needles that will sew up your mouth if you lie."

Truth be told, dragonflies are truly remarkable aerial assassins. Dragonflies have the best eyes in the insect world and probably the best flight control. They are 97 percent accurate in catching their prey. They typically capture their victims mid-flight in about 150 milliseconds!

By comparison, our own human visual systems are not even close. By the time we realize a dragonfly has taken off, it's already caught its dinner.

An expert who's written extensively on the subject, Union College Professor Robert Olberg, has learned that the insect owes much of its enviable skill to a specialized set of neurons.

Olberg knows this because he and his colleagues placed tiny electrodes on the dragonfly's neurons.

"We show moving images on a computer screen to a stationary dragonfly and watch it respond," he explained.

Olberg and his student researchers also conducted experiments with a small bead masquerading as tasty prey. In ?lming the dragonfly's pursuit of the bead and playing it back in slow motion, they saw something else that makes these arthropods awesomely e?cient predators.

"We've learned they have a very sophisticated prey-capture strategy--they predict the location prey will be at and intercept it there," Olberg said. "Most animals aim at where the prey is, but dragonflies aim at where it will be."

So there you go. Now let's all take a moment to be thankful that dragonflies are not really big--and that they do not like the taste of humans.

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