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As Male Dragonflies Adapt To Climate Change, Females Might Be Less Attracted

Ashley Pond V
Wikimedia Commons
The whitetail dragonfly is common to the St. Louis region.

In the coming years, male dragonflies may have trouble finding a mate. That’s according to new research from Washington University and St. Louis University published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

One of the ways male dragonflies attract females is with pigmentation in their wings. But as climate change causes warmer temperatures, that’s forcing dragonflies to adapt.

Evie Hemphill
St. Louis Public Radio
Michael Moore is a biodiversity postdoctoral fellow with the Living Earth Collaborative.

“Whether you look at the very far past or more recent past, dragonfly males consistently adapt in the same way in that they lose this dark pigmentation on their wings in the warmest parts of North America,” explained Michael Moore, lead author of the study and a biodiversity postdoctoral fellow with the Living Earth Collaborative at Washington University.

While male dragonflies are adapting their color to stay cooler, it may make them less attractive to females. In some cases, it’s possible that female dragonflies would no longer recognize males and mate with the wrong species.

The tradeoff, however, is that less colorful wings will help save wing tissue and even prevent them from dying due to higher temperatures.

Dragonfly relationships might get ... complicated.

“The physics of light and how light is absorbed into colors doesn’t really change whether we’re talking about a T-shirt or the coloration on dragonfly wings,” Moore said on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air.

Moore joined host Sarah Fenske to talk about the study that was co-authored with Kasey Fowler-Finn, an associate professor of biology at St. Louis University.

During the conversation, Moore also addressed how citizen science is a big part of the research. “Anyone out there can take pictures on their phone and upload them to this website called iNaturalist,” he said.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Paola Rodriguez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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