Catching Prey

As a nymph, the southern hawker has a special way of catching prey. Its lower lip has a hinge at its base and another about halfway along its length. This arrangement allows the nymph to fold the lip beneath its head when not hunting. When it sees prey, the lip shoots forward, stabbing the prey with sharp spines. 

The lip can move in less than
25 milliseconds.
It’s so fast, the nymph can strike the prey several times before it registers what is happening. Once the prey is impaled, the nymph pulls its lower lip back toward its jaws. The jaws are strong and tough and lined with teeth. They cut the prey into pieces.

As the nymph eats, it grows. And as it grows, it must molt. A nymph may molt as many as eight times, growing slightly larger each time. The period of growth between each molt is called an instar. Life as a nymph is long. The southern hawker only spends a few weeks as an egg, but it will spend several years as a nymph.

A nymph shoots out its lower lip to catch prey.

Once caught,
the prey is quickly devoured by the nymph.


A Final Change

During the final stages of metamorphosis, the southern hawker’s lower lip contracts. It can no longer hunt and eat. It needs to molt one last time. To protect itself from predators, the southern hawker waits until night before leaving the water. It climbs up the stem of a water plant. What happens next almost defies description. 

The southern hawker pumps fluids into its body. It starts to swell. The exoskeleton splits along lines of weakness on the head and thorax. It thrusts its body through this newly formed gap, and its head and
legs follow.

It gingerly steps out of its old skin and rests. Then it slowly pumps fluids into the hollow veins of its new wings to
expand them.

From Larva to Adult

Take a closer look at the journey of a dragonfly:


Emerging Nymph

The larva leaves its egg and enters the water as a nymph.


Instar Stages

As the nymph grows, it molts and forms a new exoskeleton. It will molt
several times.


Final Molt

The nymph leaves the water as its exoskeleton splits one last time.


Emerging Dragonfly

The dragonfly climbs out of its exoskeleton and waits for its new skin to harden.


Ready for Flight

The adult dragonfly unfurls its wings in the sunlight before taking its first flight.