Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Dragonfly Smashes Record for Long-Distance Insect Migration

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Dragonfly Smashes Record for Long-Distance Insect Migration

Article excerpt

A small dragonfly is thought to be crisscrossing the globe, according to new research, potentially migrating distances to rival even birds, the masters of winged migration.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, analyzed the genetics of groups of Pantala flavescens from almost every corner of the globe, and found the little beasts were startlingly similar, no matter where they came from.

There was only one conclusion to be drawn: The dragonflies must be launching themselves into the air and gliding, flapping, cruising their way between continents.

"A few years ago, doing my PhD, I was traveling the world and collecting dragonfly samples, and I found this species all over," says senior author Jessica Ware, assistant professor of biology at Rutgers University-Newark, in a telephone interview with The Christian Science Monitor. "But there was no way to prove anything about migration without genetic analysis."

In fact, literature had long suggested that Pantala might be crossing the Indian Ocean in swarms.

Then, in 2012, a group of researchers led by Keith Hobson used isotope analysis to support this theory, concluding that the dragonflies were probably migrating between India and Africa, a trip that "could possibly involve a remarkable trans-Himalayan high- altitude traverse."

And so we come to the latest study, in which Dr. Ware and her team collected Pantala samples from all over the world, carried out genetic analysis and concluded "this is one giant population, worldwide."

"They were so closely related that it implied they were freely interbreeding - as in, ones from Guyana were breeding with ones in the US, which were breeding with ones in Japan, et cetera," Ware tells the Monitor.

"Usually, you'd expect there would be neighborhoods, breeding with someone close to you. But it seems they're just as likely to mate with individuals from another continent. …

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