Metamorphosis! Southern Hawker Dragonfly Emergence.

Actually it’s an incomplete metamorphosis, as dragon and damselflies not have a pupal stage like butterflies. Nevertheless, seeing a fully formed dragonfly emerge from the body of an aquatic nymph is a spectacular thing to see.

I’ve photographed the emergence of an adult dragonfly from its nymph body before – HERE – but I was very pleased to get the chance to do it again on Friday. To see a creature go from this…

P1090776teneral_dragonfly

 

to this…

 

 

 

 

 

…is one of the most remarkable transformations in nature.

Since we built our pond five years ago, we’ve had a variety of dragon and damselfly nymphs in there. As the pond has developed from bare sand substrate with a few plants through to its current state of abundant overgrown vegetation, different species have made it their nursery, the size of the nymphs (and eventual adults) increasing in size year on year. In the first year we had lots of Common Red Damselfly nymphs. In the second, lots of Common Darter Dragonfly nymphs. In the third year, Broad Bodied Chaser Dragonflies, and finally, the Southern Hawker Dragonfly. The Southern Hawker females had been laying their eggs in the little stone wall around the pond since the first September after we built the pond, but we only saw the nymphs in the last year. They must have been in there for a couple of years already though, judging by the size of them, so they must prefer the weedy depths of the deeper part of the pond.

This summer I noticed lots of exuviae around, the empty nymph skins left when the dragonflies emerge, but hadn’t seen any nymphs emerging. Then on Friday my friend spotted this nymph crawling across a kneeling mat like a big spider (and she a was scarily fast mover, too). I relocated her to the wall of the house in a sunny spot (the same place I photographed the Chaser emergence linked to above), and these photos are of what took place over the next few hours.

Here she is in her last moments as a nymph.

hawker_nymphmetamorphosis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can see the skin splitting across the thorax…

aeshna_cyanea

The skin is splitting across the head now too, as the body of the dragonfly starts to rear up…

hawker_dragonfly

Out comes the thorax and the wing buds.

dragonfly_emergence

This takes some time and a lot of effort!

aeshna_metamorphosis

Finally, she breaks free and rears backwards, hanging upside down (photos have been rotated to landscape for easier viewing). The white threads are the linings of her tracheal (breathing) tubes, which are stripped out to finish the transition to air breathing.

dragon_hawker

She hung upside down like this for over half an hour.

southern_hawker_emergence

Check out those jaws!

aeshna_cyanea_jaws

And her wonderfully mobile shoulder joints.

hawker_legs

Finally she flips upwards…

aeshna_hawker

…And extracts her tail from the exuvia.

wing_inflation

She begins pumping fluid through her wing buds to extend them.

aeshna

Soon they are starting to look like proper wings.

aeshna dragon

The wings become less opaque…

dragonfly_wings

Then it’s the turn of the body, which lengthens before your eyes.

teneral_hawker

Finally, here she is in all her splendour.

teneral_dragonfly

She stayed on the wall for several hours until her wings were completely dry. I guarded her the whole time from the flock of ravenous sparrows which live in our garden! For such a fearsome predator (both in the water as a nymph, and out of it as a dragonfly), they are incredibly vulnerable at this transitional stage in their lives.

What a privilege to see this happening in my garden. Ponds are great! :-)

 

 

Milford Common Flowers Series

common stork's bill

common stork’s bill

germander speedwell and vetch

germander speedwell and vetch

vetch

vetch

Milford Common Flowers Series

forgetmenot

forgetmenot

ground ivy

ground ivy

heath speedwell

heath speedwell

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 232 other followers