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Posts Tagged ‘emerging’

Have you ever watched a dragonfly-to-be break out of its exoskeleton and undergo a remarkable metamorphosis from a water-breathing nymph to an amazing aerial acrobat? It is an amazing and fascinating process that rivals (or maybe even surpasses) the more familiar transformation of a butterfly that many of us studied in school.

On a recent excursion to look for dragonflies in Prince William County, my good friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford excitedly called out to me that he had spotted a dragonfly that was midway through the process of emergence. We had not had much success up to that point in the day, so Walter’s news was especially welcome.

When dragonflies are in the process of emergence, they are very vulnerable. Their bodies are undergoing some incredible changes and they do not yet have the ability to fly. If you look at the first photo and compare the size of the exoskeleton (often referred to as an exuvia) to that of the dragonfly, you can get a sense of the magnitude of the changes that were occurring.

I moved a little closer for the second shot, being careful not to disturb the dragonfly, in order to capture some additional details. The exoskeleton shows, for example, little wing pads that are tiny when you compare them to the wings that are still closed over the dragonfly’s body. A little later in the process, the dragonfly will unfold the wings and will be be able to fly, albeit weakly at first.

At this stage, we could tell that the dragonfly was a female, because of the shape of the terminal appendages, but we could not determine its species, because its colors and markings were still really pale. Depending on the species, this transformation process can take as long as several hours and it can sometimes take a few days for the colors and markings to darken. (If you are interested in this whole process, I witnessed the it from start to finish several years ago and took a series of photos that documented the process in a blog posting called Metamorphosis of a dragonfly.)

Walter was eventually able to determine that this was a female Uhler’s Sundragon (Helocordulia uhleri). My final photo shows an adult female Uhler’s Sundragon that I photographed later that same day, so you can easily see that the dragonfly was not yet done with her transformation when we photographed her. 

How did Walter do it? For the answer to that mystery, check out Walter’s blog posting today called Uhler’s Sundragon dragonfly (emergent female) for the fascinating story of his detective work and additional photos and details of our encounter with this emerging dragonfly.

Uhler's Sundragon

Uhler's Sundragon

Uhler's Sundragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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This photo leaves me a little confused, because the larval shell to which this damselfly is clinging seems too big for its body and looks more like it belonged to a dragonfly.

There are plenty of places on the internet where you can read about the life cycle of dragonflies and damselflies, but the short version is that they spend most of their lives in the water as nymphs. There they go through a series of larval stages in which they shed their skin that has grown too tight. Just before they molt for the final time, they climb out of the water and, once the skin dries, the damselflies emerge. They then have to rest for a little while as their wings unfurl and their legs get stronger. Only then can they fly away.

This pretty little damselfly seems to be in the resting phase on a little rock ledge at the edge of a pond at a local garden. I wanted to try to get a bit closer, but the embankment where the ledge was located was steep and muddy and I would have had to be standing in the water to get a better angle.

I like the photo a lot and find it to be weirdly fascinating. The landscape is simple and rugged, with some texture in the foreground. The moulted shell still seems lifelike and seems to be looking at us with a slightly tilted head. The damselfly itself has the only color in the image and attracts the viewers’ eyes. There is a kind of tension in the damselfly’s pose, as it hangs on with all of its strength, waiting until the moment when it can fly away.

Imagine what it would be like waiting, waiting for the moment when you take to the air for the first time, leaving behind forever your old life in the water.

emerging_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Last weekend, I took some shots of Multicolored Asian Lady Beetles (Harmonia axyridia) in the larval and pupal stage and discussed the phases of ladybug development in a post called Baby Ladybugs. Yesterday, I returned  to see if I could find any fully developed ladybugs that had been in pupae the last time I encountered them. (Yes, I realize I would not be able to recognize them individually, but it’s nice to imagine that we’re gradually getting to know each other.)

So, what happened? I left the shoot thinking that I had not seen any adult ladybugs, but when I looked at some of the photos on my computer of different pupae, I was uncertain. Right outside of an empty pupa shell in one of the photos is something that looks like an adult ladybug, if I squint my eyes, tilt my head, and use a little imagination. What do you think?

Newly emerged ladybug?

If you haven’t been following this story, let me catch you up with a couple of photos. (I feel like I’m doing an intro for a new television series, Lifestyles of the Ladybug.Ladybugs start out as eggs and them become larvae. As they grow, they molt several times and each time they develop a new exoskeleton. Yesterday, I saw quite a few discarded skins that, at first glance, looked a lot like the larvae themselves. Here is what a ladybug larva looks like in a later phase of development. (I took some new shots of the larvae and pupae yesterday.) They are not as cute in this stage as they will become as adult ladybugs.

Ladybug larva

Once they are fully grown, the larvae enter into a pupal stage, somewhat akin to the cocoons into which caterpillars develop into butterflies. The pupae look a little bit like ladybugs themselves and are attached to leaves. While they are in this phase, the metamorphosis takes place in which they turn into ladybugs. Here is my favorite shots of a ladybug pupa.

Ladybug pupa

After about five days, a ladybug emerges from the pupa. According to ladybug-life-cycle.com, “When the metamorphosis is complete, the skin of the larvae will split open and the full grown ladybug will emerge, but it still won’t look like the ladybug that you know so well. It will look soft and pink or very pale for a couple of hours until its shell becomes hard.”

Was I really lucky enough to catch the ladybug just after it had emerged from the pupa? My response is a firm, “Maybe,” but others with more experience may be able to respond more definitively. Here is one last photo of the possible new ladybug, from a slightly different angle than the first photo, to help your deliberations.

Welcome to this world

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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