Effects of body size on the oxygen sensitivity of dragonfly flight

Joanna R andyl Henry, Jon Harrison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


One hypothesis for the small size of insects relative to vertebrates, and the existence of giant fossil insects, is that atmospheric oxygen levels constrain insect body sizes because oxygen delivery is more challenging in larger insects. This study tested this hypothesis in dragonflies by measuring the oxygen sensitivity of flight metabolic rates and behavior during hovering for 11 species of dragonflies that ranged in mass by an order of magnitude. We measured flight times and flight metabolic rates in seven oxygen concentrations ranging from 30% to 2.5% to assess the sensitivity of their flight to atmospheric oxygen. We also assessed the oxygen sensitivity of flight in lowdensity air (nitrogen replaced with helium) in order to increase the metabolic demands of hovering flight. Lowered atmospheric densities did induce higher flight metabolic rates. Flight behavior was more sensitive to decreasing oxygen levels than flight metabolic rate. The oxygen sensitivity of flight metabolic rates and behaviors were not correlated with body size, indicating that larger insects are able to maintain an oxygen supply-to-demand balance even during flight.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3447-3456
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014


  • Dragonfly
  • Flight
  • Hyperoxia
  • Hypoxia
  • Insect
  • Respirometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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