The Truth About Why Dragonflies’ Wings Are Changing Color

Dragonflies are more than just the cool-looking bugs we see buzzing around near ponds outside in the summer. They actually play an important part in the world’s ecosystem, both by eating mosquito larvae in the water that can be harmful to other aquatic life, as well as by serving as prey for birds, frogs, and other larger creatures, according to Sciencing. They are often viewed as an important indicator of ecological health, which is why a recent study published by the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” that reported changes in the coloring of the wings of male dragonflies is actually pretty troubling. 

The patterns on the male dragonflies’ wings actually serve a very important purpose: the ornate, dark color patterns are designed to help them attract a mate. However, as a result of a warming climate, scientists have reported that the darker patterns that adorn the dragonflies’ wings are beginning to fade. The dark patterns are designed to catch the attention of female dragonflies. However, as the temperature warms, male dragonflies have responded by shedding the darker patterns, which tend to absorb more heat. As a result, the female dragonflies may be unable to identify their male counterparts, thus affecting dragonfly reproduction for years to come, according to 9 News.

Male dragonflies are losing their dark wing patterns due to warming temperatures

“Dragonflies consistently adapt to warmer climates across space and time by evolving less male melanin ornamentation — a mating-related trait that also absorbs solar radiation and heats individuals above ambient temperatures. Continent-wide macroevolutionary analyses reveal that species inhabiting warmer climates evolve less male ornamentation,” the study, which analyzed the wing colors of about 2700 individual dragonflies from over 300 dragonfly species, reported. The study did not show a similar change in female dragonflies, whose wing colorings have not changed color as a result of climate. However, this disparity of evolutionary changes between male and female dragonflies may present even greater obstacles to the continued reproduction of the species.

Michael Moore, an evolutionary biologist at Washington University in St Louis and the lead author of the study, explained to CNN: “Our research shows that males and females of these dragonfly species are going to shift in pretty different ways as the climate changes. These changes are going to happen likely on a much faster timescale than the evolutionary changes in these species have ever occurred before.” Unfortunately, dragonflies are just one of many living beings that are being impacted by the effects of climate change. And while they may be small, their impact on the environment certainly is not.

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