Curious Me – Dragonflies

Biomimicry is a smart way to teach children to observe nature and to use it as inspiration to solve tough problems. The focus is on observing functions and the way nature solves problems. Nature is filled with unique designs and behaviours that help living things to adapt to their environment and to survive.

Biomimicry allows children to investigate nature and to focus their attention on amazing designs. Like the compound eyes of dragonflies. Using these observations as a stepping stone for getting new ideas, teaches children not only to value nature but also about how to use different approaches to thinking, from critical to lateral and creative.

Dragonflies have been hovering across our planet for the past 325 million years and sadly many of these ancient insects are threatened by extinction. Loss of wetland habits, insecticides as well as pesticides threatens these beautiful creatures that has inspired artists in many different ways – jewellery, pottery and poems.

The Dragon-fly

Dragonfly, dragonfly,

Sailing freely in the sky,

Gliding on the summer breeze,

Up and down as you please,

Flying alone, feeding in the sun,

Coming home when the day is done,

Free and happy in your heart,

Surely you a life’s a life apart.

Chinese nursery rhyme

Dragonflies have unequal wings, and they hold their wings out from the body. The beautiful insects have large eyes that often touch each.

Dragonflies and bees have the largest compound eyes of any insects. Each eye may contain up to 30, 000 facets. The eyes wrap around the dragonflies’ head which means that they can see in all directions at the same time. The forward-looking vision is sharpest.

When a dragonflys captures a prey it does not chase it rather it intercepts it in mid-air. The hunting is successful nearly 95 percent of the time, which is very impressive since the technique requires the dragonflies to calculate the distance of its prey, the direction its is moving and the speed with which the prey is flying.

Cutting-edge research is now looking into insects’ eyes rather than human visual system to get inspiration.

Does the dragonfly see hundreds of images of the same thing with its facets eyes?

No, that idea is a myth. Each little compound eye, facet, has its own lens, rods and cons and they all send signals to the dragonfly’s brain. But they still see one image, just like us. Each little eye in the big compound eyes is pointed in a slightly different direction.

The way a dragonfly sees is similar to how a picture is formed on a computer. A picture on a computer is made of many pixels that are in different places. Like the pixels in a picture on the computer, the information that a dragonfly gets from all its little eyes are put together to form an image.


Designing a robot that can detect and track small objects against a complex background is a challenge for robotics engineers. Dragonflies locks a target onto the background and lets the target move against it. This approach is different from what we humans use, where we try to keep a target centered in the field of view.

Robots that track moving objects with the same sharp precision as dragonflies. The skill to filter out noise helps a dragonfly to catch its prey. A bit like a deep sleeper who will not wake up to everything only their alarm. The light sleeper might wake up to any kind of stimuli.

Why not search the internet for colourful dragonfly eyes and make a sketch of the eyes. The units of the compound eye in most insects are hexagonal so you can see some really striking patterns in the eyes of dragonflies. If you find several images you may notice that the top part of the eye is a darker color than the rest of the eye. One possible explanation is that the darker colours protects the eyes from direct sunlight. Dragonfly in sunglasses!


Dragonfly mask

Or why not make a dragonfly mask with beautiful eyes?

You can cut out hexagons and make a cool robot that can track thieves or. . .



Photos Andreas Kay

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