My transition into being an adult took many years (and some would say has yet to conclude). Imagine, then, what it is like to make the transition from youngster to maturity in an hour.
That is what has been happening all over my pond, as revealed by some very interesting evidence left behind.
The story begins 18 months ago when I filled my new pond for the first time. By summer 2016, the pond plants I had added were still tiny and there was very little vegetation apart from blooms of blanketweed, but wandering dragonflies from unknown ponds beyond my garden found this new home and buzzed about over the surface.
Emperors, Broad-bodied Chasers, Southern Hawkers and Common Darters all came and laid their eggs, and by this spring I would catch glimpses of their plain-coloured, armoured nymphs stalking the deeps in their entirely underwater existence.
Occasionally, I would hoick one out by accident when hauling out knitted sheets of dripping algae. Carefully extracted and returned to the water, they would jet propel themselves back to the safety of the deep water.
Then, over the last four weeks, driven by increasing temperature and daylength and powerful internal clocks, the time had come for them to say goodbye to their aquatic life and become air-breathing, winged flying machines.
However, despite all the time I spend in the garden, I haven’t seen a single one of them emerge. But I have seen the results. These things: exuviae.
They bear witness to a remarkable metamorphosis, in which the nymphs find vertical stems of plants such as irises up which they can climb clear of the water. Their outer skeleton then cracks open behind their heads, and they drag themselves out of their shells backwards, leaving behind this perfect empty casing – the exuvia. They must then pump air and insect-blood into their crumpled wings before their maiden flight, a period where they are incredibly vulnerable.
This is my collection of exuviae from just Year One of the pond, and doesn’t include all those that were out of my reach in deeper water. So far, over 60 dragonflies have emerged.
So when do they make the transition? Well, these dragons so far have been Emperors, and they emerge and night and take their maiden flight at first light.
So even though I haven’t seen the magical transformation this year for real, it just shows how quickly a new pond can become a home for wildlife. And how fascinating even just the evidence of their emergence can be.