How dragonflies and damselflies use pond plants to mate and to emerge as adults

Dragonfly emerge as adults:

Dragonfly and damselfly larvae need to leave the pond to emerge as adults – dragonfly and damselfly larvae will use the tall stems of emergent marginal plants – Water Iris, Lythrum salicaria, Butomus umbellatus, Eriophorum and Cyperus species. They need to be out of the water, in dry conditions, to open their wings as adults.

This sequence of images was taken in our warm exhibit tunnel in late May 2016.

The larvae climb up out of the water to dry conditions and secure themselves onto the stem of an upright emergent pond plant so they can push themselves out of their final skin through the slit in the casing behind the head area. They leave the last of their larvae casings abandoned once they have unfurled their wings to fly for the first time.

This emerging process often happens early in the morning and can take a couple of hours until the adult has basked in the sunshine, gained colour and strength in their wings and is ready to fly.

Damselfly casings are longer and thinner than dragonfly casings and you can still see the 3 gills as a different colour on the tip of the tail of the abandoned damselfly casing.

Dragonfly mating rituals:

Adults will fly for a number of weeks once they emerge. They will rest on tall plant leaves like this Pontederia or the Schoenoplectus stems and bask in the sunshine or swoop over the water in a ritual mating routine in search of a partner.

The copulatory wheel of mating takes place using any upright plant stems like these Typha, Schoenoplectus or Pontederia species or also on waterlilies but never far from the water.

Dragonflies and damselfies can use waterlilies as a perch during mating as long as they remain out of the water.

Once mating is complete the female will lower her ovipositor down into the water to release her eggs without allowing her entire body to get wet. This will result in the females laying their eggs back into the mud at the edge of the pond or into the water around the marginal pond plants or waterlilies. Dragonflies like a sunny, sheltered pond and adults will fly some distance to colonize a new pond without help from man.

Dragonfly larvae:

Once under the water the egg develops into the larvae stage or nymph. They emerge from the egg  tadpole-like and moult almost immediately after hatching. During its time as a larva, the dragonfly catches and eats live prey at every opportunity and moults a further 5–14 times until it becomes full sized.

The dragonfly or damselfly larvae will live beneath the water surface for years as a predator eating mosquito larvae and other small creatures until it is time to climb out on the upright emergent pond plants in the last few months of their lives to go through the same cycle as their parents.

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