Frog Tongues, Vader Masks, and Dragonfly Nymphs

4 Mar
The extended spoon-shaped labium of a libellulid dragonfly nymph.

The extended spoon-shaped labium of a libellulid dragonfly nymph.

One of my favorite examples of weird insect anatomy are the strange mouthparts of the aquatic nymphs of dragonflies and damselflies.  A close look at the faces of these creatures reveals large hinged structure folded back under the head.  In the case of the nymphs of Libellulidae, this structure actually curves up and wraps around the face, very much like a Darth Vader style mask.  What are these structures?

Ventral side of libellulid nymph.

Ventral side of libellulid dragonfly nymph, showing the spoon-shaped labial mask.

All Odonata larvae have a prehensile labium, sometimes called a labial mask, which folds under the head and thorax.  This lower lip is capable of extending rapidly forward, striking prey before they can react.  Hooks on the ends snag the prey and draw it back to the mandibles.  All in all, the feature is reminiscent of a frog tongue snatching flies.

Ventral side of aeshnid nymph.

Ventral side of aeshnid dragonfly nymph, showing the flat, blunt labial mask.

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4 Responses to “Frog Tongues, Vader Masks, and Dragonfly Nymphs”

  1. Adrian Thysse March 11, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    I like the first image – it looks quite dramatic!

  2. Suellen Pometto May 14, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

    Would you make your photographs available for a new youth online publication through Entomology Society of America with acknowledgment? Thank you.

  3. Mary Lenahan September 10, 2012 at 7:56 pm #

    Your blog is da bomb! I just discovered it and can’t get enough of it. Do you mind if I share some of the facts/photos I found on your blog in an educational presentation?

    • 6legs2many September 10, 2012 at 10:26 pm #

      Thanks! And my stuff is free to use for non-profit educational purposes with citation. Plus I basically love talking to kids about bugs, so I’d be happy to answer any questions.

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