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Dragonflies

A dragonfly nymph caught while sampling a local stream for aquatic insects. The nymph stage is quite different than the adult. Karen Jackson, ©2020, Clemson University

A dragonfly nymph caught while sampling a local stream for aquatic insects. The nymph stage is quite different than the adult.
Karen Jackson, ©2020, Clemson University

Did you know the beautiful dragonflies you see flying around rivers, ponds, and lakes spend most of their lives underwater?! Their lifecycle begins as adult females dip their abdomens onto the water’s surface and deposit eggs. These eggs then develop into the larval form of dragonflies, called a nymph. This nymph is very alien-like in appearance. They have three pairs of long, sprawling legs and large eyes on the sides of their head. Nymphs can live in the water up to four years before emerging as the adults we often see flying. One of the neatest features on the nymph is the labium or lower lip. Dragonflies are voracious predators, and they use this retractable labium to quickly capture prey, such as other invertebrates or small fish. Nymphs can be found in dense vegetation along the margins of waterways. This is where they wait to find their prey! Nymphs are also quite fast, as they can propel themselves by shooting water out of their rear ends.

This dragonfly nymph has crawled onto a fallen log and emerged as an adult. The adult has paused to pump liquid through its wings and body before the nuptial flight. The exuvia can still be seen on the underside of the mushroom. Karen Jackson, ©2020, Clemson University

This dragonfly nymph has crawled onto a fallen log and emerged as an adult. The adult has paused to pump liquid through its wings and body before the nuptial flight. The exuvia can still be seen on the underside of the mushroom.
Karen Jackson, ©2020, Clemson University

An adult dragonfly rests on an Alder tree beside a pond. Dragonflies live briefly as adults and spend their time feeding on mosquitoes and mating.

An adult dragonfly rests on an Alder tree beside a pond. Dragonflies live briefly as adults and spend their time feeding on mosquitoes and mating.
Karen Jackson, ©2020, Clemson University

The aquatic portion of the dragonfly lifecycle ends when the weather turns warmer in the spring, and the nymphs crawl out of the water onto vegetation. It is then that the adult dragonfly emerges from the exoskeleton or exuvia. Before taking its nuptial flight, the adult dragonfly must dry out its wings and pump blood through its abdomen until it is fully extended. This generally takes a couple of hours. The adults sometimes only live a few months to a year and spend their time mating and feasting on mosquitoes. Adults come in a variety of vibrant colors, depending on their species. These insects are one of the oldest on earth, having been around for nearly 300 million years!

If you have a pond or lake on your property and are interested in creating habitat for dragonfly nymphs, consider planting native shoreline plants in the emergent zone of your pond. Visit HGIC 1855 Shorescaping Freshwater Shorelines or HGIC 1704 Aquatic and Shoreline Plant Selection for ideas on what species work best.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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