Dragonflies count among the most skilful of the flying insects. Their exceptional aerodynamic performance has been the subject of various studies. Morphological and kinematic investigations have showed that dragonfly wings, though being rather stiff, are able to undergo passive deformation during flight, thereby improving the aerodynamic performance. Resilin, a rubber-like protein, has been suggested to be a key component in insect wing flexibility and deformation in response to aerodynamic loads, and has been reported in various arthropod locomotor systems. It has already been found in wing vein joints, connecting longitudinal veins to cross veins, and was shown to endow the dragonfly wing with chordwise flexibility, thereby most likely influencing the dragonfly's flight performance. The present study revealed that resilin is not only present in wing vein joints, but also in the internal cuticle layers of veins in wings of Sympetrum vulgatum (SV) and Matrona basilaris basilaris (MBB). Combined with other structural features of wing veins, such as number and thickness of cuticle layers, material composition, and cross-sectional shape, resilin most probably has an effect on the vein′s material properties and the degree of elastic deformations. In order to elucidate the wing vein ultrastructure and the exact localisation of resilin in the internal layers of the vein cuticle, the approaches of bright-field light microscopy, wide-field fluorescence microscopy, confocal laser-scanning microscopy, scanning electron microscopy and transmission electron microscopy were combined. Wing veins were shown to consist of up to six different cuticle layers and a single row of underlying epidermal cells. In wing veins of MBB, the latter are densely packed with light-scattering spheres, previously shown to produce structural colours in the form of quasiordered arrays. Longitudinal and cross veins differ significantly in relative thickness of exo- and endocuticle, with cross veins showing a much thicker exocuticle. The presence of resilin in the unsclerotised endocuticle suggests its contribution to an increased energy storage and material flexibility, thus to the prevention of vein damage. This is especially important in the highly stressed longitudinal veins, which have much lower possibility to yield to applied loads with the aid of vein joints, as the cross veins do. These results may be relevant not only for biologists, but may also contribute to optimise the design of micro-air vehicles.
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