Aliens on earth

Loch Lomond NNR

Much about the lifecycle of invertebrates is weird yet wonderful, fascinating but slightly disturbing. One of the strangest aspects of insect life is metamorphosis – the process of changing from egg to adult in a series of stages, involving complete changes in appearance and body structure.

Dragonflies undergo incomplete metamorphosis which means that they go straight from the larval to adult form without transitioning through a pupal stage, like moths and butterflies in cocoons and chrysalis’.

The emergence of adult dragonflies can appear like something out of a Sci-Fi horror movie as the adult bursts out of its larval case, leaving behind a gaping hole in a larvae-shaped shell.

Golden-ringed dragonfly larval shell (exuvia) found next to the adult

Last week we came across an adult Golden-ringed dragonfly that had very recently emerged. You could tell that it was very fresh as its wings were still held back, yet to be re-positioned horizontally.

Golden-ringed dragonfly with its wings held back

The larval nymph climbs out of the water where it has been living and feeding on insect larvae for several months. They often climb onto a plant stalk (which is where we found this one) where the adult hatches out of its skin. The process takes some time (up to 2 hours!) as the dragonfly waits for its body and wings to harden up due to the redistribution of fluids.

Their colour also intensifies during this period – this one was a very bright yellow compared to the golden colour it will become.

If we had stuck around to watch, we would have seen its wings unfold and begin to twitch as it warms up its flight muscles in preparation for its very first flight, known as its maiden flight!

Check out this previous blog post for more dragonfly hatching activity.

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