Tuesday 24 July 2012

Southern Hawker Dragonfly

What did you do at breakfast time this morning?
My mouthfuls of breakfast were interspersed by taking frame after frame of an unfolding miracle birth. Here's why.

With the arrival of the summer weather (finally!) it has prompted some residents of our garden wildlife pond to move into the next phase of their amazing life-cycle. After re-establishing our pond around four years ago, we had been delighted that the dragonflies had chosen to lay their eggs in it shortly afterwards. Since then, we have been eagerly awaiting the day when the nymphs of the Southern Hawker dragonfly Aeshna cyanea, would crawl out at the end of their three years of maturing. Surviving by preying on other small creatures, such as tadpoles and other aquatic insects that live in the pond, we have watched as the tiny nymphs have grown bigger each year. Finally, on Sunday, we were excited to spot the signs that our first 'brood' were on the move, as empty nymph cases littered the sedge leaves.

So this morning, I set the alarm early and arrived at the pond-edge to find several new empty cases from those nymphs which had metamorphosed during the night, as is the nature of most of the Odonata family. However, there are always those that are the late risers and it was not difficult to find one such nymph. With the pond-edge being less than ideal to sit and photograph from, I make no apologies for then making life easy for myself. With one very restless nymph and a pot set up very quickly with a few blades of sedge I set myself up in my kitchen with nothing more than my little G12, and waited.

After a few attempts to climb the sedge, I watched as it finally clamped itself to a blade and started wriggling, followed very shortly by the splitting of the nymph case along the back of the thorax, almost missing the start as it happened so quickly.
And so the series of images began- needless to say it took rather a long time for me to finish my breakfast as the literally, unfolding birth that was happening in front of me was truly captivating. Even having watched the event before, it still never ceases to amaze me how such a stunning insect can emerge from such an aggressive-looking creature.

After around an hour and a half it had reached the stage shown above, and that is unfortunately, where I had to leave it for a while whilst I attended to other business. Carefully moving it to the safety of an (empty) old fish tank in a quiet corner of the garden, I left it in the drying out stage. Returning four hours later, I was pleased to find the transformation almost complete. Lifting the assemblage from the safety of the tank, the first wafts of warm summer air hit the wings of the female Southern Hawker and with that, gave a litle flutter and off she buzzed on her maiden flight.

Below are the series of images, and if they prompt just one adult or child to look out for and watch the amazing spectacle, then I will be very happy indeed. It should be experienced at least once in a lifetime.



  1. Amazing! Great series of photos Celia!

  2. Thank you GH, you're very kind

  3. Just wonderful. I shall show these to our granddaughter tomorrow.

  4. This is one of those simply amazing things in life that every child should experience. If not for real, then photographs are the next best. Thank you Roger.

  5. The way the wings unfurl is truly amazing! Your photos a wonderful record of the metamorphosis.


  6. Yes, they they are incredible. I have to say that I think the wings as they appear in the last-but-one indoor image are so beautiful. I love the creamy colour with the lovely dark outlines crinkly texture and scalloped edge. A dress made like this would be stunning!

  7. That's incredible, I wish we had something as stunning as that going on in our pond. We've had it for about 3 years, we've had a few frogs, but that's about it. Looks like you're making most of that G12 you got too, looks great.

  8. Thanks Nick.
    Yes the G12 is proving its worth at this end of the spectrum. Our pond is most definitely a wildlife pond with the edges well overgrown, which is what dragonflies like.
    The 3 year wait for these to hatch out was well worth it.


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