Dragonflies are fierce predators of other insects, seemingly invincible as they zip around ponds and meadows at warp speed. But they themselves fall prey to birds and even other dragonflies, in the dog-eat-dog (dragon-eat-dragon?) insect world.
One predator you might not expect to feast on something as fast as a dragonfly might be a spider. But the spider’s deathly weapon — the web — can definitely ruin a dragonfly’s day.
My friends Hal and Ginny woke up one morning on their recent vacation to find a young Calico Pennant ensnared in the sticky strands of a web outside their cabin in northern Michigan. They immediately jumped into action to try to free the little guy. Hal wrote an account of their efforts for our Wild Ones Oak Openings Region newsletter (he’s our chapter President), and he has given me permission to reprint an excerpt of his article for you. So here it is:
During the night a spider had constructed a web of fascinating geometry. Normally the sparkling dew-laden strands would have caught my attention first. But, not this time! A large dragonfly was solidly entangled in the sticky threads. It must have been there a long time as it had given up and appeared to have gone to dragonfly heaven. I was surprised the web’s eight-legged architect hadn’t already wrapped this prize up for a later feast.
Not seeing the spider, I decided to get a better look at the prey. I pushed my finger to move the colorful insect and SURPRISE! Two of its legs not entangled wiggled and grasped my forefinger. It was alive. Now what do I do? I felt bad for this fascinating creature. But I was witnessing the natural food web in action, up close and personal.
I again looked for the arachnid whose livelihood I was messing with. Didn’t see it. So, I pulled a little and the dragonfly clutched more strongly. It tried flapping its wings to escape but the threads held. I pulled a little more and one of the wings came free of the web. The dragonfly held tighter on to me. Pulling some more, two more wings came free. Another easy tug freed the final wing, but four legs were still tangled up. Putting my fingers behind its wings prevented them from being recaptured while I pulled at the remaining silk chained to the legs.
Now, completely free from the web, the dragonfly sat on the deck railing. It tried again to fly but couldn’t. I saw a piece of silk holding the right fore and hind wings together. By now, Ginny had heard me. She brought some flat toothpicks and took pictures. There was enough space between the wings for me to insert the toothpick and gently extract the silk.
Now testing its freed wings, the dragon rose into the air a little, but quickly landed back on the railing. Noticing a gob of web residue holding several of the legs together, some more toothpick work was in order. Using two toothpicks I was able to separate most of the constraint. The insect rose a few inches above the wooden railing. Again, it quickly returned but this time to my finger. This time it took a little while to find one last vestige of the spider’s handywork wrapped around the right front leg. The silk didn’t let go easily. But finally, it did release.
That little creature must have been exhausted from its brush with death. Slowly it climbed farther up on my finger and rested for a few moments. As we looked at each other, I wondered how I appeared to it. Ever so slowly it rose vertically into the air, hovered for a second, flew a couple of feet to my left, turned 180 degrees, and flew to the right, then returned to hover in front of me for what seemed like a breathtaking minute. Then it was gone.
Knowing what kind people Hal and Ginny are, I’m not the least bit surprised that they wanted to help this beautiful creature. I’m very impressed with how they delicately disentangled it and gave it a chance to live out its life. Thanks Hal and Ginny, for sharing this story with all of us. I bet that Calico Pennant has already found a girlfriend and told her how you saved him so just he could make babies with her!
Just wanted to thank you for writing this. A dragonfly flew into a cobweb last night then panic flew into my house into a sink of dishwater. I scooped it up and took it back outside and removed what web I could see and hoped for the best. This morning it was alive but there was still web in the wings and I have no idea about these things so I googled and found your article. I hadn’t thought to check its legs and base of wings which also needed help. Toothpicks and an hour later (with a panic flight leading to more cobweb), it took off and has landed near some trees probably resting from the ordeal before a proper flight. I need a rest too ahaha. Thanks again! 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
Somehow I never saw this blog post from 2019 when it was originally published. I just came across it since you mentioned it recently to Hal. Don’t know how I missed it, but I enjoyed reading about our adventure.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Oh my gosh, thank you for letting me share your story, Ginny!
I do love a story with a happy ending!
I believe we’re all connected in various ways. I think animals read our energy, and be it a large mammal or a tiny insect, they all matter. If they need a little help I give it. Even insects need attention sometimes. I’ve rescued a lot of insects ensnared in a spider web!
Yes, I agree, and you’ve definitely done more than your share of rescuing critters!
LikeLiked by 1 person
That is an amazing story. Sometimes, I think nature’s creatures instinctively know when another creature is trying to help. Thank you for sharing this Kim!
I think you may be right, Ardys. I’ve seen other instances of wildlife rescues where the animal seems to understand that we are trying to help. I always love those moments of interspecies connection.