NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J., March 2 (UPI) -- New research suggests a dragonfly known as the globe skimmer -- named for its wide distribution -- is the world's longest-distance flyer.
Scientists have long been both impressed and bemused by the globe skimmer's impressive range. No one was sure exactly how the dragonfly made its way from North America to South America, from Japan to India.
Genetic analysis suggests the dragonfly species, Pantala flavescens, is capable of long-distance treks from continent to continent. Scientists say there is no other way to explain the nearly identical gene signatures spanning the globe.
The analysis was detailed this week in the journal PLOS ONE.
"This is the first time anyone has looked at genes to see how far these insects have traveled," Jessica Ware, senior author of the new study and assistant professor of biology at Rutgers University, said in a news release.
"If North American Pantala only bred with North American Pantala, and Japanese Pantala only bred with Japanese Pantala," Ware explained, "we would expect to see that in genetic results that differed from each other. Because we don't see that, it suggests the mixing of genes across vast geographic expanses."
But how and why do these dragonflies cross the planet?
Scientists say their large wings are ideal for gliding along with wind currents. They catch the wind and chase the weather. Globe skimmers prefer extremely moist weather for mating and egg-laying.
"They're going from India where it's dry season to Africa where it's moist season, and apparently they do it once a year," said Daniel Troast, study co-author and former biology graduate student at Rutgers.
Though scientists can only offer a rough estimate as to the species' exact travel routes, their analysis suggests the dragonflies travel as far as 4,400 miles, nearly doubling the length of the monarch butterfly's migration from Canada to Mexico.