Beneath the Surface

At first glance, this photo may look rather dull. Or possibly even gross if you’re not a fan of insects. But it’s a great illustration of two things: 1) the fascinating lifecycle of the damselfly, and 2) and importance of garden ponds in providing a habitat for nature.

Damselflies look like the smaller, skinnier cousins of dragonflies. They have narrow bodies with wings that fold back instead of being held out to the side. Like dragonflies, however, they have voracious appetites and the adults gorge themselves on other insects, such as mosquitos and gnats. They also have a similar lifecycle: eggs laid in water by the adults hatch out into a larval form called a nymph. Unlike the nymphs of classical mythology, these are far less attractive, looking a bit like an aquatic silverfish.

They are just as ravenous as the adults though, and spend their time as larvae chowing down on whatever comes within reach: tadpoles, other insect larvae, basically anything smaller than they are. As they eat and grow, they shed their skin until they reach the point where it’s time to spread their wings—literally. They climb up on vegetation or stalks in the water, and their skin splits for the last time, allowing the adult damselfly to climb out. It takes a bit of time for the wings to unfurl and dry out, then they are off, looking for dinner and a mate so the cycle can begin all over again.

And this photo shows that all of this is happening in my garden pond. There are about 10-12 nymph cases clinging to plants or, in this case, a stick I put in the water for this particular purpose. Having rescued a recently metamorphosed damselfly from the water last year, I tried to make it a bit easier for them this time around. If you have a pond without tall plants, consider popping in a few sturdy sticks or bamboo poles, and keep an eye on them in the spring—you never know what may be lurking beneath the surface.

imageA damselfly emerges from its nymph case; you can see how its wings are folded and need to be pumped up and dried off before it can take flight.image

This is a newly emerged adult damselfly drying out and preparing to launch itself from the relative safety of the pond.

Off the Beaten Track Wiltshire

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