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How to eat a dragonfly

By David D. Cooksy

[Editor’s note: This is the third of a four-part “how to” series. Look for “How to eat a crawdad” in a future issue.]

This series is a description of the hunting and consumption of prey by the big birds of Mission Trails Regional Park. In the first segment, I described how a great blue heron (ardea herodias) captured and consumed a bullfrog; in the second, how a great blue heron ate a catfish. In this segment, I describe how a snowy egret (egretta thula) catches and consumes a dragonfly.

(clockwise from top left) The snowy egret stalks, catches then swallows a dragonfly in Mission Trails Park. (Photos by David D. Cooksy)

If catching prey represents the most difficult step of a meal, the snowy egret displays masterful hunting skills when catching a dragonfly. In fact, for one I recently photographed, it was so easy, the meal was literally snatched out of the air as it flew past.

As with the way the blue heron eats a bullfrog or catfish, before consuming prey a certain preparation by the snowy egret is required. In the case of the dragonfly, the snowy egret crunches the insect in its bill, drops it on the ground, steps on it, picks it up, tosses it in the air, catches it, crunches it again … repeats these steps as necessary.

After properly prepared, prey is consumed head first. The snowy egret manipulates the dragonfly into position and, with some difficulty, swallows it down.

While photographing the sequences of bullfrog and catfish, it was difficult to determine whether the prey was still alive after the considerable preparation. However, I am quite certain the dragonfly was still alive as the wings were buzzing.

— David D. Cooksy is a trail guide at Mission Trails Regional Park.

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