Despite living on a lake, I don’t make it down to the water every day, depending on what I’m up to and where I take Raven out for exercise. A few days ago I decided just to take her down to the water to swim, rather than walking her down the road. As I was standing there, waiting for her to retrieve a stick, I noticed the dry husk of a dragonfly nymph’s exoskeleton. In the last few days there’s been dozens upon dozens of dragonflies, skimmers and baskettails and clubtails and even a couple of darners, swirling through the air above our driveway and lawn. It seemed that there was a big emergence just recently, producing all these adults now on the wing. I presumed this exoskeleton to belong to one of them, and looked around to see if I could spot anymore.
Could I ever! At first it was just one, then two. Then a couple more. Then three in one spot. The more I looked, the more I saw. There were dozens upon dozens of exoskeletons clinging to the cattails, the dogwoods, the grasses and tree leaves and shrubs and dock. Dozens and dozens of nymphs creating dozens and dozens of dragonflies. Most were medium-sized and were probably baskettails, but I saw a few larger ones, and also a few small ones that belonged to their cousin species the damselflies.
Dragonflies and damselflies spend anywhere from one month to five years as a nymph, living in the mud and vegetation of lake and pond bottoms, and moulting a dozen or more times as they grow. Once they’re large enough, they climb out of the water and up onto a tall piece of vegetation or other structure. There, they dig in their claws to ensure a firm grip, and then begin shrugging off their skin. Like cicadas, which I watched emerge last summer, they have an incomplete metamorphosis, meaning that the adult insect emerges directly from the exoskeleton of the nymph, without an intermediate stage as a pupa.
As I was poking around the shore, checking out all of the discarded exoskeletons, I heard a rustling. Following the sound, I discovered this dragonfly, still clinging to the reed next to an empty shell. One wing was crimped, and it couldn’t fly. It may have emerged in tight quarters where its wing didn’t have room to expand as it dried, or it may be that its wing got caught in the exoskeleton as it was emerging, and dried at a funny angle. Regardless of the cause, life was done for this unfortunate dragonfly – if it can’t fly, it’s unable to either catch food or mate.