adult ­dragonfly

The older version has three body segments. Like all insects, it has a head, thorax, and abdomen. It has six legs. It has two pairs of wings. Its huge eyes are so close together on the top of its head, they touch. The colors of its body are brilliant.

dragonfly­ nymph

The younger version also has three body segments. It has six legs, too. But its wings have not yet formed. Its eyes are set far apart. And it's not as colorful.

This is the same animal, the southern hawker dragonfly. You are just seeing it at different points in its life.

Look at them side-by-side. They are different versions of the same thing!

Insect Body Parts




Changes Ahead

All insects undergo metamorphosis. This process of change takes place as an insect nears adulthood. More than 80 percent of insects experience complete metamorphosis. This happens in four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Dragonflies experience an incomplete metamorphosis. This happens in only three stages: egg, nymph, and adult. 

Southern hawkers are one of the most common dragonflies in Europe. They live near small ponds and woodlands. Each dragonfly begins life as an egg.

Male and female dragonflies mate in late summer or early fall. The female lays her eggs, one by one, inside the stems or leaves of a water plant. This keeps them safe from predators.

To hatch in the spring, the young dragonfly swallows water through the casing of the egg. The egg then swells. A sharp pointer on the dragonfly’s head pierces the egg. It bursts open.

A prolarva emerges and frees itself from its covering. It enters the water and sheds its skin. It is now a nymph.

Nymphs must molts, or shed their skin, a number of times as they grow. That’s because their outer layer, called an exoskeleton, cannot stretch or grow. When the insect gets too big for its skin, the skin splits open.

A southern hawker nymph's body is brown and green. These colors make the nymph harder to see in water.

A southern hawker nymph moves underwater.

Deep breaths cause the split to widen. The southern hawker then shrugs out of the old skin. Now the dragonfly nymph is slightly larger.

Molting is helpful in another way. It allows damaged tissue to heal. Missing limbs can regenerate, or grow again. Yet, molting can be a dangerous time, too. Until the new exoskeleton hardens, the dragonfly is exposed to predators.

More Mobile

A dragonfly nymph can zip through the water. It moves by squirting water out of its back end. This propels it forward. The dragonfly needs to move quickly because it is an active hunter.

The nymph’s body is brown and green. These colors help it blend in with pond or lake water. It is hard for either its predators or prey to spot it. Yet, the nymph can see them quite well.

At this stage in its life, the southern hawker’s large eyes are set far apart. Its eyes are always scanning for prey. The nymph needs to eat and looks for insects, small tadpoles, and fish.

A southern hawker nymph's eyes are set far apart.