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…



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.
















You can see the skin splitting across the thorax…


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


Out comes the thorax and the wing buds.


This takes some time and a lot of effort!


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.


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


Check out those jaws!


And her wonderfully mobile shoulder joints.


Finally she flips upwards…


…And extracts her tail from the exuvia.


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


Soon they are starting to look like proper wings.

aeshna dragon

The wings become less opaque…


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


Finally, here she is in all her splendour.


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! 🙂




19 thoughts on “Metamorphosis! Southern Hawker Dragonfly Emergence.

  1. Fantastic series showing the metamorphosis from exuvia to adult, Lucy. I’ve never been fortunate enough to witness this so it’s a treat to watch through your images.

  2. Thanks for sharing. It is a superb series of photographs. I have never seen a dragonfly emerge, I don’t suppose that many people have. It must be a very dangerous stage of her life as she is immobilised for such a long time, an easy target for predators. It must be good to feel you and your pond are doing your bit to provide habitat for them. Amelia

  3. Outstanding sequence! Great macros! That’s an amazing transformation – slightly gross, in a way, but fascinatingly intricate. And some technical terms to learn into the bargain. Thanks, Lucy! RH

  4. Amazing series of photographs. I used to be terrified of them! Now I love seeing them around my house. I’ve never seen the entire transformation before. Thank you so much.

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