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Wed Aug 31 10:02:08 SAST 2016

Dragonflies seasoned globe trotters it would appear

Shaun Smillie | 06 March, 2016 14:37
Pantala flavescens
Image by: John C. Abbott, Ph.D. Section of Integrative Biology Curator, Brackenridge Field Laboratory Insect Collection Texas Memorial Museum.

Their wings are not much longer than the length of a cigarette‚ but on them this insect makes intercontinental journeys of tens of thousands of kilometres.

New research has finally proven that a dragonfly called Pantala flavescens migrates across the globe following the summer.

Biologists at Rutgers University-Newark‚ studied the insect's genes and found that populations of this dragonfly in places like Texas‚ eastern Canada‚ Japan‚ Korea‚ India and South America were so similar‚ they had been interbreeding‚ and creating a worldwide gene pool.

Pantala‚ also known as the globe glider‚ is common in South Africa. Author and dragonfly expert Warwick Tarboton‚ said they usually appear in South Africa around November and disappear in April. Where they go‚ is not clear‚ he said‚ although they are known to migrate from Tanzania and Mozambique‚ across the Indian ocean via the Seychelles to India.

“No one has put markers on them‚ so we don't know where they go‚” said Tarboton. He said the species of dragonfly hitches a ride on the moonsoon winds and follows the summer.

"This is the first time anyone has looked at genes to see how far these insects have travelled‚" said Jessica Ware‚ a senior author of the study in a statement. "If North American Pantala only bred with North American Pantala‚ and Japanese Pantala only bred with Japanese Pantala.

"We would expect to see that in genetic results that differed from each other. Because we don't see that‚ it suggests the mixing of genes across vast geographic expanses."

- TMG Digital/The Times

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