By | September 9, 2016

Possibly the largest insect that has ever lived, Meganeura looked like a gigantic dragonfly. Its wingspan was 2. ft (75 cm)—12 times greater than that of common dragonflies today. This monster insect used its giant wings to hunt other insects in midair. Insects and other invertebrates grew to a great size in the lush forests of the Carboniferous Period, perhaps because Earth’s air was richer in oxygen than today, making breathing easier.

Meganeura (MEGA-new-ra)



When: 300 million years ago (Late Carboniferous)

Fossil location: Europe

Habitat: Tropical swamp forests

Wingspan: Up to 30 in (75 cm)

Meganeura was not a true dragonfly but a member of a closely related family called griffinflies. It had stronger legs than modern dragonflies and a simpler pattern of veins in its wings. It flew quickly through tropical forests, using its huge compound eyes to spot prey. It could snatch flying insects in midair, grabbing them with its legs and bringing them up to its mouth to devour as it flew.



Meganeura means “large-veined.” This fossil, found in France, shows the thick veins that acted as struts to stiffen the large, delicate wings.


Like modern dragonflies, Meganeura flapped its front and rear wings separately and perhaps at different speeds, giving it a fine control of flight. Dragonflies are amazingly agile, able to hover, fly backward, and change direction in an instant.



One of the world’s largest dragonflies today is the giant dragonfly (Petalura gigantea), which is found in New South Wales, Australia. Despite having a wingspan of almost 5.1/2 in (14 cm), it is actually quite a poor flyer, and rarely moves far from its area. Like its ancestors, it eats flying insects.


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