Dragonflies by Pieter van Dokkum: Magnificent Creatures of Temperate, Tropical Water, Air, and Land

by DerdriuMarriner

Dragonflies by Pieter van Dokkum offers nature-lovers a review of the temperate and tropical world’s most magnificent creatures of air, land, and water.

Dragonflies are able to rotate their heads 360°

The image-filled, information-filled book Dragonflies: Magnificent Creatures of Water, Air, and Land in temperate and tropical climates achieves two dreams for Yale University Professor Pieter van Dokkum:
• applicability of dragonfly dynamics to observational astronomy; and
• record of dragonfly lifespans from birth to death.

Two 30,000-faceted compound eyes bring a dragonfly almost 360°-vision. The mechanics cause the Dragonfly Telescope Array's construction from 25 telephoto lenses clustered like one space-scanning, super-sized compound eye in New Mexico. They also dominate parts of the Yale University Press publication released in 2015 as the first complete photographic odyssey of the dragonfly, from deposited eggs to developed naiads to dead adults.

So photography and prose elucidate dragonfly forages, predators, prey, reproduction, and shelters.


Website: http://www.astro.yale.edu/dokkum/Home/Welcome.html


macro photo of compound eye of Common Darter dragonfly: 30,000 ommatidia, hexagonal facets, create an intricate mosaic of images which account for sophisticated vision enjoyed by dragonflies:

Pieter van Dokkum, Professor and Chair of Yale University's Astronomy Department as well as a dragonfly enthusiast, co-designed an extraordinary telescope inspired by dragonfly eyes.
Copenhagen Botanical Garden, eastern Denmark
Copenhagen Botanical Garden, eastern Denmark

Dragonflies bring insect worlds big-eyed, sharp-toothed, uneven-winged beauty


Afterword, bibliography, and index follow the illustrated info-book’s eight chapters. The chapters go chronologically through dragonfly natural histories. They therefore handle:

  • eggs deposited as pinhead-like spheres or rice-like cylinders in or near quiet lake, marsh, meadow, pond, pool, river, stream waters;
  • larvae hatched within 30 days to 1 – 6 years as gill-breathing, grass- or mud-colored, worm-like naiads hungry for caddis-flies, fleas, midges, minnows, shrimp, snails, tadpoles, worms and pursued by fish, frogs, newts, salamanders, toads, water-birds, water-spiders; and
  • mature females and males released after 9 – 17 molts for 2-8 weeks of breathing through exterior spiracles and interior trachea, eluding birds, frogs, and foraging for butterflies, caddis-flies, flies, mayflies, mosquitoes, moths to prepare for mating and producing eggs. 


A method of laying eggs common to skimmers (Libellulidae) such as Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum):

Holding female in tandem, male guides her to water surface for broadcasting mid-air to allow eggs to fall on water.
Dunyeats Hill Nature Reserve, East Dorset, South West England
Dunyeats Hill Nature Reserve, East Dorset, South West England

Dragonflies cluster bio-geographically within northern, southern tree-line limits


The egg stage is defended by ambient coloration and sticky jelly whereas the larval and mature stages respectively look to:

  • dual-hinged, fast-moving, head-masking, hook-tipped mouthpart to catch prey and discourage predators; and
  • forward, horizontal, reverse, sideways, vertical speeds variously estimated at 40- to 60-mile (64.37- to 96.56-kilometer) per hour maximums.

But less assuming body color joins record-breaking flight speeds only in terms of mature females and recent-emerged males. Scientists know that adults need the first 7 – 14 days after emergence from the final larval molt to finalize body color.

The experience leaves adult females dull-looking regardless of body and wing color and mature males iridescent- or metallic-looking because of:

  • intra-cuticle pigments;
  • intra-wing suspended liquids; and
  • sub-cuticle fats.


Dragonflies: Magnificent Creatures of Water, Air, and Land by Pieter van Dokkum ~ Available now via Amazon ~ 4.7 out of 5 stars from 11 reviews (as of 6/22/2015)

As Professor and Chair of Yale's Astronomy Dept., Pieter van Dokkum regularly looks through the world's most powerful telescopes. An expert in insect photography, he specializes in dragonflies.
dragonfly books

Dragonflies dine while flying, extend wings while resting


The author/photographer merges education and research regarding:

  • extra-galactic and galactic births and evolutions;
  • high-redshift observations of space’s earliest, fastest, remotest configurations; and
  • near-infrared imagery in medium-band filter-system research.

Image-analyzing, observing, and recording skills therefore nudge position requirements for the author/photographer’s day job and insect-related pursuits. They optimize dragonfly profiles of:

  • fore-section for scary mouthparts, three daylight-sensitive simple eyes, two 180°-vision compound eyes, two odor-sensitive antennae;
  • mid-section for six prey-catching legs, four independent-moving wings; and
  • post-section for 10-ringed abdomen clasp-tipped in males, claw-tipped in females.

They promote culturally enriching, educationally entertaining, geo-historically enthralling backyard-scaping with:

  • bank-side brambles, grasses, heathers, rushes, sedges; and
  • emergent, floating, marginal, submerged plants.

They never question dragonfly presences as other than super-healthy, super-observable, super-welcome. 


Multi-color Dragonfly Fairy Strings Lights ~ #1 Bestseller New Release in Landscape Path Lights

20 LEDs 16.4 Ft solar powered decorative lights in shape of dragonflies ~ Energy-saving environment friendly, powered by solar energy, waterproof, suitable for indoor and outdoor decoration. *Low power consumption, safe and reliable
dragonfly themed products



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


male Yellow-winged Darter (Sympetrum flaveolum)

a rainbow of colors
a rainbow of colors

Sources Consulted


Colburn, Elizabeth A. 2004. Vernal Pools: Natural History and Conservation. Blacksburg, VA; and Granville, OH: McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company. 

van Dokkum, Pieter. 2015. Dragonflies. New Haven, CT, U.S.A.: Yale University Press. 

Wortman, Marc. 15 June 2015. “Astronomer Pieter Van Dokkum Photographs Dragonflies Up Close and Personal.” The Daily Beast

  • Available at: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/06/15/astronomer-pieter-van-dokkum-photographs-dragonflies-up-close-and-personal.html


dragonflies in flight: agile, colorful, swift flashes as four wings are synchronized for optimum velocity ~

male Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta)
Viladecans, Catalonia, northeastern Spain
Viladecans, Catalonia, northeastern Spain
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Unisex Natural T-Shirt "Advice from a Dragonfly" by Earth Sun Moon ~ Available now via Amazon ~ Also available as Hat and as Sweatshirt ~

Advice from a DragonflySpend time near the water | Be colorful | Enjoy a good reed | Zoom in on your dreams | Appreciate long summer days | Keep your eyes open | Just wing it!
dragonfly products

Dragonfly Dreamcatcher: purple t-shirt ~ Available via AllPosters

Dragonfly Dreamcatcher
Ad AllPosters

Alex and Ani Dragonfly Charm Expandable Bangle Bar Bracelet ~ Available via Amazon

Alex and Ani patented expandable wire bangle concept allows the wearer to adjust the bangle for a perfect fit
dragonfly themed jewelry

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 01/03/2022, DerdriuMarriner
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


Only logged-in users are allowed to comment. Login
DerdriuMarriner on 07/17/2015

CruiseReady, Thank you for sharing such a most interesting thought! It would seem that it would be a more complete and precise look than what we process since dragonflies have such sharp, wide-ranging vision.

CruiseReady on 07/17/2015

You just have to wonder exactly what the world looks like to a dragonfly, don't you?

DerdriuMarriner on 06/29/2015

Mira, It's a difficult decision whether to let butterflies, dragonflies, and fireflies live or control mosquitoes. Unfortunately, science isn't at the point that target-specific (mosquito-only) sprays work, and so there are always collateral casualties and side effects.

Mira on 06/29/2015

I didn't realize insecticides kill dragonflies and fireflies too. And butterflies! How terrible. They spray them everywhere in Bucharest to get rid of mosquitoes.

DerdriuMarriner on 06/29/2015

blackspanielgallery, Insecticides indeed are problematic for butterflies, damselflies, dragonflies, and fireflies. It's a shame since all four so prettify our world. To my way of thinking, they qualify as much as hummingbirds for being called jewels of the air.

blackspanielgallery on 06/26/2015

I have seen these since I was a child, and they still are visible although not as many as in years past. I suspect the insecticide used to control mosquitoes is doing them in around here.

DerdriuMarriner on 06/23/2015

SheilaMarie, The gorgeousness of the photos is the reason why the generous photographers who share them get acknowledged in every article by me!
Dragonflies indeed are gorgeous to watch, and I really enjoy mapping them as part of the wildlife whose comings and goings I monitor. Citizen science programs such as Dragonfly Watch and the wildlife mapping programs through state game and inland fisheries departments are so worthwhile!

sheilamarie on 06/23/2015

Your photos are gorgeous! Dragonflies are amazing to watch.

DerdriuMarriner on 06/23/2015

Mira, Yes, Professor van Dokkum constructed a telescope -- which is in use in New Mexico -- to imitate the 30,000-some curved, six-sided facets which make up each of the dragonfly's two compound eyes. The telescope already is praised because of the discovery of one of the far universe's fast-moving, otherwise-unknown objects.
A dragonfly has among the best vision around. The compound eyes give dragonflies 359.9-degree vision in addition to the neck being capable of moving around -- owl-like -- 360 degrees. Three simple eyes atop the head additionally keep the dragonfly current on the exact status of day and night since they are light super-sensitive.
Damselflies also have excellent vision but, unlike dragonflies, they do not have the simple eyes atop the head. They also exhibit fluttery flight patterns, have a slender abdomen and thorax, hold their wings vertically up at rest, and need a place to eat their prey. Dragonflies contrastingly extend their wings horizontally, have a chunkier abdomen and thorax, and tend to catch and eat prey during flight.

Mira on 06/23/2015

So an astronomer wrote a book about dragonflies. You say his telescope was inspired by their eyes? Also, do dragonflies rotate their heads 360 degrees, or is it that the multi-faceted eyes they have give them 360-degree vision?

You might also like

Giant Homerus Jamaican Swallowtails (Papilio homerus): Largest...

Homerus swallowtails evoke Homer. Like their namesake, they have wonderful th...

Falcate Orangetip Butterflies and Best Nectars Forever (BNFs):...

Common blue violet, Virginia bluebells, and sickle-pod are enjoyed by Falcate...

Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...