'Meganeura' Was A Prehistoric Dragonfly With A Two-Foot Wingspan

Three hundred million years ago, the largest insect ever known to humankind hunted in fern jungles and boasted an enormous wingspan of nearly 2.5 feet. Different from modern dragonflies in its size and other attributes, the Meganeura earned the title "prehistoric griffinfly" from scientists. The first Meganeura fossil, discovered in 1880, eventually led researchers to a group of mega-insects, including Meganeuropsis permiana and other massive dragonflies. These creatures hunted prey using their enormous eyes, toothed mandibles, and sharp legs. 

This insect was only one of many massive prehistoric creatures. But atmospheric differences and a lack of flying predators allowed Meganeura to rule the skies for millions of years. Unlike other exotic insects that evolved defensive coloring to hide, Meganeura used its size to dominate prehistoric swamps.

But what caused the ancient insect to go extinct? Scientists still disagree.

  • It Was About A Quarter Of The Size Of An Average Human

    About the size of an eagleMeganeura was one of the biggest insects in history. It had a wingspan of nearly 2.5 feet. Even the common name for Meganeura points to its size - rather than calling Meganeura a dragonfly, scientists dubbed it a "griffinfly." 

    The massive wingspan of the prehistoric creature stretched wider than most adult men today and taller than some toddlers. 

  • It Had Sharp Teeth And Ate Meat
    Photo: Andreone93 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    It Had Sharp Teeth And Ate Meat

    Meganeura hunted in an era before birds and bats existed. The species grew strong mandibles that gripped and carried prey. These appendages were toothed, making them even more formidable.

    The giant prehistoric dragonfly hunted similarly to modern dragonflies, but it was large enough to prey on much bigger creatures.

  • It Hunted Frogs And Newts
    Photo: Bildflut / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    It Hunted Frogs And Newts

    Meganeura ruled the skies 300 million years ago. While it hunted small insects, it also ate larger creatures, like frogs and newts.

    At the time, these amphibians were still acclimating to a more terrestrial lifestyle. That shift made it easier for Meganeura to trace them.

  • It Lived In Fern Jungles Before The Dinosaurs

    Meganeura lived during the Carboniferous period. The species thrived in the humid wetlands, and larval Meganeura lived in the water. During its juvenile phase, Meganeura preyed on aquatic insects and even fish. A strong jaw helped the prehistoric dragonfly hunt in the water and from the air. 

    Giant insects like Meganeura dominated the Earth for millions of years before the dinosaurs.

  • It Had Huge Eyes

    Like today's dragonflies, Meganeura had highly evolved eyes. The prehistoric insect's eyes were incredibly large; they helped the creature scout out prey.

    When Meganeura spotted a frog or other favorable food source, it struck with sharp leg spines and mandibles.

  • Its Wings Were Surprisingly Strong
    Photo: Charles Brongniart / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Its Wings Were Surprisingly Strong

    Meganeura's wings might look like those of modern dragonflies, but they were significantly stronger. In fact, the creature's name stems from its wings - it means "large-veined."

    The wings sustained a network of veins for power and cross braces that provided additional strength.