Dragonflies spend most of their lives as nymphs in the water. When the time is right, they crawl out of the water, break out of their exoskeletons, and turn into the colorful aerial acrobats that I love to watch and to photograph.
Although I have seen photos and videos of this amazing transformation, I have not yet witnessed the entire process in person. However, this past weekend I did spot some newly emerged Common Sanddragon dragonflies (Progomphus obscurus) at Huntley Meadows Park. Nymphs of many dragonfly species attach themselves to vegetation as they undergo their metamorphosis, but Common Sanddragon nymphs merely crawl out of the water onto a sandy area at the edge of a stream.
After I had spotted the dragonflies, I scoured the sandy stream bank and managed to find some cast-off skins (exuviae). Looking at the exuvia in the photo, you can see how the nymph has broken through the shell just behind the eyes and crawled out. The stringy white things on the top of the exuvia are breathing tubes used by the nymphs.
My last image is a visual reminder of how complicated and delicate this transformation can be be. The dragonfly obviously had some kind of a problem in expanding its wings and it is doubtful that it was able to survive for very long.
© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.