The dragonfly is an insect that has inhabited the earth for several years – almost 300 million years to be exact. There are more than 5000 species of dragonflies that exist today. There are many people who believe that these insects live only for a day. This however is not true. At the shortest the life cycle of a dragonfly from egg to the death of the adult is about six months. There are even dragonflies that live for several years as aquatic larvae before they emerge and live for a few months as adults. Most dragonflies don’t die of old age but are caught by predators. Even if they do survive, they still don’t live much longer than a few months.
A surprising and interesting fact about the dragonfly is that, they will spend only a very short part of their life span as actual adult dragonflies. They will live as nymphs for up to four years, molting their skin between 8 to 17 times depending on the species, and finally when they mature into adults, they can only live for a few months.
The lifespan of a dragonfly is found to consist of two-stages. After breeding the female dragonfly will lay her eggs on or near water or in a place that will fill with water. Once the eggs have hatched the first stage in their lifestyle can begin. At this stage, it is an aquatic larvae, also called ‘nymph’. This stage will generally last between one and three years, during which time the larvae will act as a voracious predator of other insect larvae, tadpole and even small fish. Unlike most of the other species of insect, including moths and butterflies that go through a pupal stage before emerging as adults the dragonflies however do not pupate. Instead of pupating the larval form or nymph will come out from its aquatic environment and hang from the bank or a stem. This position makes it easier for the larvae to be exposed to the pleasant warmth of the sunshine and undergo metamorphosis into an adult dragonfly.
Once the larva’s transformation is complete, the newly emerged adult will have to wait several hours before its wings dry out and become strong enough to fly. The dragonfly at this stage is called a teneral which is a Latin word meaning tender or soft or delicate. This is a very critical period in the life cycle of the dragonfly. The tenerals are generally weak and they cannot fly very well. This makes them easily exposed to predators, which can also be dragonfly larvae themselves. Many more of them die when they are knocked down by strong winds or by boats. However, it doesn’t take much time for the tenerals to gain sufficient strength to make their first flight. Once the adult becomes capable of flying, it becomes once more a voracious predator, showing off its wonderful self defense mechanisms. Though the dragonflies themselves are predators, they must be very careful of predators like birds, lizards, frogs, fish etc. They have many adaptations that will enable them to escape these predators. They have exceptional eye sight and fast and agile flight movements. As an adult, the dragonfly’s source of food will be flying insects and some of the larger dragonfly species may even predate its cousin the damsel fly.
The adult life of the dragonfly does not last long. They live just long enough to mature and reproduce. The adult dragonfly will not live beyond several months, depending on the quality of the weather. They may live as long as six months provided the weather is dry and warm. However, in the short and sometimes cold weather, adults will not live for longer than several weeks. This short lifespan of the adulthood in dragonflies allows them to live in the presence than in the future. This is something that we all should keep in mind in our very busy lives.