I was in the right place at the right time as I was photowalking Dogue Creek at Wickford Park on 01 June 2016: I noticed a dragonfly nymph as it crawled out of the water; the nymph stopped a few inches from the waterline and began to emerge right away. I photographed the entire process from beginning to end: I shot 77 photos in approximately 45 minutes; time is compressed by showcasing 14 select photos taken at major milestones during the event.
The following photo is the first image from a time-series documenting the miraculous metamorphosis of an emergent male Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphis obscuris). Elapsed time is expressed in hh:mm:ss format, e.g., 00:44:21 (the total elapsed time).
The pre-emergent dragonfly nymph appears in the lower-left corner of the preceding photo; the cast skin from another dragonfly appears in the upper-right corner. Truth be told, I was so focused on observing the dragonfly nymph that I never noticed the cast skin until after I finished the photoshoot!
The dragonfly began to emerge through a split in the thorax, as shown in the next three photos.
Within minutes, the emergent dragonfly was entirely free from its exoskeleton. This individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages.
The wings, folded like accordions, then begin to fill from the base with fluid transferred from the body and fairly soon reach full length. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 466-467). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
Soon, the folded wings were as long as the abdomen…but that didn’t last long.
The fluid is then pumped back into the abdomen, and it expands. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 467-468). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
Notice the wings are nearly clear in following photo, indicating the greenish-colored fluid that formerly filled the wings is almost gone. The abdomen is noticeably longer than the wings in this photo.
Finally, the wings open up, and very soon the teneral adult flies away. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 468). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
The next-to-last photo shows the teneral dragonfly after waiting approximately 15 minutes for its wings to harden, just before first flight…
The last photo shows the cast skin from the emergent dragonfly, technically known as an exuvia (singular). The white filaments that extend from the split in the thorax are breathing tubes, artifacts of the unique respiratory system of dragonfly nymphs.
- Metamorphosis of a dragonfly – a blog post by Mike Powell documenting an emergent Common Sanddragon dragonfly observed on 03 June 2016 at Huntley Meadows Park
- Emerging Common Sanddragons – a blog post by Walter Sanford featuring two emergent Common Sanddragon dragonflies observed at Patuxent Research Refuge
- Miraculous metamorphis – a blog post by Walter Sanford documenting an emergent female Common Whitetail dragonfly at Huntley Meadows Park
Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.