By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener Yikes! The Wildlife Gardener nearly trod on a large nymph on the side of the pond today. Carefully noting where it was so I wouldn’t crush it under my waders, I carried on with my late summer task of removing the choking blanket weed that seems to fill the pond overnight if left unchecked. At this time of year the pond has fewer inhabitants, the departed leaving ghostly remains of their time in the nursery:
This is an exuvia. It is the dry leftover casing (exoskeleton) of a dragonfly nymph when the dragonfly has emerged and flown away. There were lots of them in the pond. I finished my slubbing, and my thoughts turned to lunch. Before I clambered out of the pond, I had a brief look around to see where the large nymph I had so nearly flattened had gone. I expected it to have plopped back into the pond. Then I noticed a strange green and black creature on a buddleia stem by the pond…
The fat black nymph I avoided earlier had split open, and a pale green box-fresh dragonfly was easing itself out of the casing. Its wings were tiny and scrumpled, and white fibres hung down like burst-open corset laces. These fibres are in fact the breathing tubes (tracheae) that the nymph relied upon for respiration in its aquatic stage. Rather endearingly, the dragonfly was licking its paws as they unpinged from the casing. You can see the deadly barbs on the dragonfly’s legs ” flying prey insects don’t stand a chance once a dragonfly has locked onto them.
I left the dragonfly in peace while I had some lunch. When I returned an hour later, the wings had unfurled, but its body was still curved:
Another hour later and the dragonfly’s abdomen had straightened, and some bluish colour had begun to develop. It had also become aware of me and my prying camera as a possible predator, and shied away slightly, processing, no doubt, thousands of images of me through its compound eyes. My guess was that this dragonfly was a species of Hawker (Aeshna sp.) but I’m happy for one of our readers to give me a proper ID.
Dragonflies (Odonata) are reckoned to have been present on Earth in some form for around 300 million years. As I watched this brand new one emerge in 2010, I mused upon how many diverse organisms, from the Devonian period to the present day, would have been as fascinated as me watching the unfurling of a dragonfly. But, of course, most of them would have eaten it.