What's a Patagonian Dragon?

"I thought you might like this rather rare find I came across the other day in Chilean Patagonia," writes Roxanne Schinas in sharing her photo of this remarkable insect. "I was walking on the seemingly sterile surface of a glacier when I noticed a prehistoric-looking creature floating in a puddle of meltwater, and at first assumed it must have been dropped by a bird.

 Photo of Patagonian dragon shared with The Naturalist's Notebook by Roxanne Schinas in Chile

Photo of Patagonian dragon shared with The Naturalist's Notebook by Roxanne Schinas in Chile

"Actually this is a creature known as the Patagonian dragon, a very primitive insect which spends its entire life within the glaciers of the Andean Southern Icefield: the only wingless member of the stonefly family, it has high concentrations of glycerol (antifreeze) in its blood, and feeds entirely on the particles of algae growing in minute crevices in the ice. Since this part of the world is inaccessible and uninhabited these insects are very understudied, and I was very lucky to come across one which had ventured out of the ice."

The first insects evolved almost 500 million years ago, so seeing a type that's old even by insect standards—and survives in and on glaciers—is amazing. Who needs mythological animals when the planet is filled with so many astounding real ones? Many thanks, Roxanne!

By: Craig Neff