Function of the legs in Odonata

Dave McShaffrey
Sat, 29 Jan 2000 16:15:44 -0500

Odonata -


As many of you know a number of us are working on "Dragonflies and
Damselflies of Ohio", hopefully to be published in a year or so.  I was
tasked with writing the introductory chapters on natural history.  I have
been poring over the reviews that several of the other authors sent me as
part of our internal review process.  One of them took issue with a
statement I made about the spines on dragonfly legs.  I had used the old
party line about the spurs forming a basket and thus being useful in
catching smaller prey. This appears in several places, including the
entomology text co-authored by Borror, who, one expects, knew a little about

My co-author has suggested that this is another case of the conventional
wisdom being not as accurate as we might think, and offers that smaller prey
are usually taken by the mouth and larger prey are taken with the assistance
of the legs.  He lists the primary functions of the dragonfly's legs as:

1. perching
2. grasping a mate
3. enabling the adults to emerge from the exuviae
4. courtship displays (rare)
5.  holding onto large prey - possibly

I tend to agree with him on these, but I'm unsure about what to do with the
"basket hypothesis". Having seen a number of Odonata consuming prey, but
none actually catching the prey (at least close enough to see what the legs
were up to) I can't say I have any strong feelings either way.

Does anyone have any ideas/observations/opinions? We want this book to
reflect a modern consensus about these creatures, and many of the comments
that have appeared in this forum over the last few months have already
influenced the text.  Thanks to everyone who has contributed in the past,
and thanks in advance to anyone who has ideas on the functions of the legs.


Dave McShaffrey
Biology Department
Marietta College
Marietta, OH  45750

(740) 376-4743 (voice)
(740) 376-4753 (fax)

Status: N