Dragonfly Larvae: Complete Lifecycle Process Explained With Fun Facts

Tanya Parkhi
Jan 18, 2023 By Tanya Parkhi
Originally Published on Feb 01, 2022
Edited by Katherine Cook
Fact-checked by Amatullah Gulbargawala
Read all about the life stages of a dragonfly.
Age: 3-18
Read time: 7.0 Min

Dragonflies and damselflies are beautiful iridescent insects belonging to the insect order Odonata and suborder Anisoptera.

The lifecycle of dragonflies and damselflies is quite interesting, as they spend most of their time as dragonfly larvae, living underwater. An adult dragonfly lives only for a fraction of the time that a dragonfly larva lives before taking flight.

Though dragonflies use their spectacular wings to fly around, you typically find dragonfly larvae in water bodies! They feed on smaller fish and insects to strengthen their bodies and are actually quite fierce predators! To learn more about this beautiful wildlife species, read on!

What are dragonfly larvae called?

Dragonfly larvae are popularly known as dragonfly nymphs. These undeveloped insects usually stay unseen by humans as they spend most of their time underwater or floating slightly under the water's surface.

After hatching from an egg, a dragonfly larva spends a lot of time underwater, which is why an adult dragonfly prefers to lay eggs near aquatic habitats. Dragonfly larvae in pond and lake environments tend to spend their time in the bottom layers.

Dragonfly Larvae Stages

A dragonfly larval stage can take months, even years to reach completion. Mature dragonfly females lay their eggs in or near water bodies like streams, rivers, ponds, and wetlands. The eggs are either laid on the banks of the water body or directly on the water's surface.

Once the eggs hatch, the larvae immediately take to the water and are very easily adaptable to the aquatic lifestyle. Like their parents, dragonfly nymphs are quite slender in appearance, however, they lack the two pairs of translucent wings and iridescent coloring that all mature dragonflies sport. They have six legs that they utilize to propel themselves forward in the water and external and internal gills that help them breathe. They do not have wings, which are unnecessary as they live underwater. They have large eyes on their heads, which are useful as they are visual hunters. Nymphs of damselflies usually have three leaf-like tails at the end of their bodies which act like gills, while dragonfly nymphs have gills located in their rectums, which take in the oxygen as water is sucked in. During these processes, the water taken in can also be ejected forcefully, propelling the larvae forwards at high speeds as a form of transportation.

Depending on the species of dragonfly or damselfly, the nymph may take anywhere between two to three months or even five years to mature into an adult dragonfly. Smaller species usually mature faster, while larger species take longer to turn into adults. Depending on the species, nymphs may also inhabit different parts of the water body. Some larvae spend their time on half-submerged rocks or cling to aquatic plants, while others spend their time floating on the water surface or among the leafy litter or sandy substrate at the bottom. Dragonfly larvae grow by molting, which means shedding their exoskeletons to reveal a newer, stronger layer underneath. It takes at least 10-12 rounds of molting before the larvae are ready to transform into adult dragonflies and damselflies. A nymph as well as its wing buds grow larger with each molt.

Once a nymph is ready to emerge, it will climb out and attach itself to a twig or rock near the water. Around this time, a nymph is able to directly breathe air rather than take in oxygen from the water. The fluids inside the body of a larva will pump extremely fast, expanding the exoskeleton which will then harden and form a pupa, inside which the dragonfly grows its wings. Once the adult is fully formed, it will push its way out of the pupa and take flight, leaving the hardened skin hanging behind. The skin behind the head splits first, with the rest of the body following.

Adult dragonflies have slender, elongated bodies, colorful bodies, and beautifully patterned wings. The larval stage takes up most of a dragonfly's lifecycle because the sole purpose of an adult dragonfly is to mate and lay more eggs. Adult dragonflies usually live for only between one to eight weeks.

The adult leaves behind the hardened shell of the dragonfly larva once it hatches.

What do dragonfly larvae eat?

Like fully grown dragonflies, dragonfly nymphs are completely carnivorous in nature. They are actually quite adept at hunting and go after aquatic insects like worms, tadpoles, mosquito larvae, and even small fish!

Dragonfly nymphs actually hunt in quite a terrifying way. A dragonfly nymph has an extremely flexible and detachable lower jaw called a labium, which it will shoot out at lightning speed to catch its prey as it swims or floats past. A nymph's jaw has immensely sharp teeth and tiny hooks attached at the tip so that it can latch onto its prey and bring it back easily for immediate consumption. The lower jaw is able to detach at such high speeds because of a natural hydraulic pressure system, which is formed because of the contraction of the muscles in the abdomen. This unique method of hunting makes a nymph very hard to escape from, making it one of the top predators in the aquatic insect food chain system!

How To Get Rid Of Dragonfly Larvae

If you own a fish pond and notice an unusual number of dragonflies hovering around, it may be detrimental for the population of your pond as larger dragonfly larvae may feed on the small fish. Dragonflies are a very important part of the ecosystem as they feed on pests like mosquitoes and flies, however dragonfly larvae may end up eating even beneficial species in their quest for constant nourishment. The sole purpose of dragonfly larvae is to amass enough nutrition to transform into adult dragonflies, so they are constantly searching for food.

If there are too many dragonflies and damselflies laying eggs in your garden, then you can combat this problem by adding larger fish to your outdoor pond. These fish view insect eggs as food and will take care of them naturally, as well as snatch up any female dragonflies who get too close to lay eggs.

Males and females tend to stick around a garden after mating until the eggs are laid. You may notice more dragonflies flying around during the warmer seasons, from July to September, which is when they typically breed. During the mating process, the male flies close to the female and attaches itself to her head using 'claspers'. If you want to hatch the eggs, scoop them up with a net and place them in a separate tub or pond, where they can hatch and mature into adults without harming any other species.

You can also artificially add smaller insects or other food sources to the pond to distract the nymphs from the fish. Dragonfly larvae thrive best in clear water, so you can trap them by placing bait in a jar of extremely clear water at the surface of the pond or at the bottom. Being visual hunters, the larvae will be attracted to the food and swim into the jar, from where they can be disposed of or relocated.

Adding amphibians like frogs and salamanders to an outdoor pond can also help rid the space of larvae and adults flying nearby if necessary. If their population is getting too out of hand and cannot be controlled, then adding natural predators to the mix can help keep them in check. Add bird feeders and bird houses around the yard, so that your garden attracts birds, which will make the place more lively as well as add more predators to remove dragonfly larvae.

You can also clean up your pond by eliminating nearby weeds or unnecessary plants. Though dragonflies lay their eggs in the water, they need to perch on nearby plants in order to do so. Fresh, flowing water may also discourage them from choosing the area for laying eggs as they prefer stagnant, still water. Female dragonflies hang on tightly to the plant by wrapping their wings and legs around it while dipping the tip of their abdomens into the water to lay their eggs.

Another way to discourage dragonflies from coming around is to spend more time in your garden simply! Like many other insects, dragonflies prefer to lay eggs in places where they feel human interference and disturbance is minimal. Your mere presence may ward them off and mark your garden as an unsuitable breeding place!

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Written by Tanya Parkhi

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Economics

Tanya Parkhi picture

Tanya ParkhiBachelor of Arts specializing in Economics

Tanya is a skilled content creator with a passion for writing and a love for exploring new cultures. With a degree in Economics from Fergusson College, Pune, India, Tanya worked on her writing skills by contributing to various editorials and publications. She has experience writing blogs, articles, and essays, covering a range of topics. Tanya's writing reflects her interest in travel and exploring local traditions. Her articles showcase her ability to engage readers and keep them interested.

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