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Emerging Like An Emperor Dragonfly

Damian Gaffey

Posted on 22 June 2018

Female Emperor Dragonfly Laying Eggs - Anax Imperator

Public Domain, Link

A surprise in the pond 

We have an old, disused swimming pool just outside our workshop door where there are a couple of chairs and a really good view. We often sit and have our coffee there - it's a place of tranquillity. A natural oasis for pond wildlife has developed in the old swimming pool over the years. There is always activity, even on still and calm days the pond skaters keep the ripples on the surface spreading out continuously.

One day in early July, something that looked from a distance like a small fish, was thrashing about in the shallows. I ventured over to see what it was.

well made stuff workshop swimming pool pond

The beast I saw was about 3 inches (75mm) long and was wriggling around on the surface. Amongst the weed by the pool edge it was easy to follow and so I laid down to wonder at it. (I wish I'd had a camera on me!) Never having seen anything like it before, I had to look up what it was. I'm pretty sure it was an Emperor Dragonfly nymph, the largest of the UK natives.

A dragonfly nymph appears like a relic from pre-history - scary looking things. They are absolutely ruthless hunters, so voracious, they will take anything up to their own size. I have a suspicion they are responsible for clearing out the pond of all the frogs this year. There was a plethora of frog spawn laid in early spring, however we have hardly seen any tadpoles, which is rare, usually we have quite a few of them around.

Here are a couple of nymphs I managed to video. They are a bit smaller than the one I saw, as they spend several years in the larval stage as nymphs in our pond.

You can see them both breathing on the surface (through their rear ends - bent up from their abdomens) before they dive once more to the depths to continue their campaign of underwater terror.


Emperor Dragonfly Nymphs in the pond


And then a week or so later this appeared! A mature female Emperor Dragonfly - Anax Imperator. She has mated and is now laying her eggs under the floating pond weed, resting on twigs and other sturdy perches (such as the lily pads) to be able to stay afloat as she does her job.

In their adult and airborne form the emperor dragonfly is one of the largest and fastest of the dragonflies. They fly high and catch their prey on the wing, butterflies and other smaller dragonflies, often consuming their catch in the air.


Female Emperor Dragonfly laying eggs in the pond


I'd like to think it was her I had seen, struggling in the margins of the pond, ready to haul herself out onto a lily or perhaps some of the marsh grass.

With this desire to prove some link with the female I saw laying and the large nymph that had captured my attention, I went looking for evidence of the shell like skin (exuvia) of the nymph left behind, when the dragonfly transitions from it's aquatic form to it's adult flying form.


Determined, I kept looking and after a bit of time and some very wet feet, I came across this amazingly well preserved specimen! Attached to a lily pad, in full sun (perfect for drying out the newly unfolded wings) was a large emperor dragonfly exuvia.

You can see the little wing pouches in which the wings develop all folded up. You can also see the lower mandible (bottom jaw) that launches forwards incredibly fast, like a catapult to grab it's prey, extending forwards in front of it, about three times the length of the head.


An Emperor Dragonfly Exuvia - on a lily pad in the swimming pool pond

Emperor Dragonfly Exuvia - showing wing pouches and the lower mandible



I feel there is some kind of parallel between the dragonfly and us starting our new business. Like a nymph, the voracious hunter, getting a business off the ground consumes your time and resources. We have spent 18 months concentrating on getting our new business planned, developed and launched. It can, at times, feel endless, with yourselves hidden away, just like a nymph maturing in the depths of the pond. It doesn't always look pretty either.

I really love how we have been labouring alongside these dragonfly nymphs - we in the workshop, they in the pond. Only now as we are launching out and showing what we have been making, do we find out about them and what they have been up to so close by. Just as they are also launching quite literally into a new season.

Now the time has come to launch our business and emerge from the darkness into the light, the effort to become visible, vulnerable and to demonstrate what we do with excellence (hopefully so anyway!), is like the effort the nymph exerts to haul itself out of the familiar and safe surroundings of the pond, into a completely new phase.

The dragonflies, once airborne, perform great aerial manoeuvres, making their flight appear effortless. However, it takes a lot of effort to stay airborne and I wonder as I write this, exactly how much it will take for us to keep this new business in the air. We want to be just as graceful in flight as the dragonfly - I think we've got an exciting ride ahead of us!


An Emperor Dragonfly Emerging from it's aquatic

form and leaving it's exuvia behind.

Emperor Dragonfly - Anax Imperator - Emerging

By Loz (L. B. Tettenborn) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

An Emperor Dragonfly in flight.

Emperor Dragonfly - Anax Imperator - in flight

By Alandmanson - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

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1 comment

  • Sharon: October 01, 2019

    Well observed and the life parallels are for the pondering. Leaving behind the old exudia is often what it takes to fulfil our destiny!

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