Cardinal Meadowhawk (Sympetrum illotum) Emergence


On March 24, 2014, Kathy & Dave Biggs and friend Mary were able to observe 6 Cardinal Meadowhawks emerging from the children’s wading pond in the Biggs’ backyard

where Kathy propagates aquatic pond plants.


This series of images and links to movies shows the basic process:






This is the small pond where the emergence was taking place.


The tall plants are Water Plantain and the feathery lower plants are Parrot’s Feather.



This is a ‘baby’ dragonfly, properly referred to as a nymph or larva.


It is about a half inch long and is probably about a year old.


It has lived its entire life, up until now, underwater, hiding in the mud and debris at the bottom of the pond, hence it is coated with a layer of slime!


It is now ready to do its transformation into an adult, flying dragonfly.


The pale areas are just plant matter stuck to him.




He has looked about, clambering around, until he finds what he considers to be a suitable spot.


The chosen spot is in the warm sun (they are like lizards and need the warmth of the sun to be able to move about).


The water level is just a few inches below, and the nymph must make certain that when his wings extend, they will not touch the water and be ruined.


Click on this link for a short video of the nymph climbing up to find the ideal emergence site.

[The avi. file takes awhile to load]


In reality, he is only ½” long.





Look closely!


The nymph has dried its exoskeleton and then puffed itself up with air, thereby ‘breaking’ the exoskeleton at about where you’d expect a ‘neck’ to be. Now you can see the top of its thorax beginning to appear. It’s the smooth, clean part at this point in time!





The transformation continues as now the eyes begin to emerge from within the exoskeleton.



Click on this link for another short video of the nymph emerging from its exoskeleton.

[The avi. file takes awhile to load]




Now we are seeing the underside of the emerging dragonfly. He’ll just hang like this now, resting and awaiting the hardening of its legs. Once his legs harden, he’ll lurch forward in a gymnastic-like move, using his legs to grab hold of the exoskeleton and thereby pulling the rest of his abdomen out of the exoskeleton.


He is totally helpless and defenseless at this point in time!



It took him about a half hour of hanging like this before he was able to pull himself out of the exoskeleton.


The white ‘strings’ are the lining of his trachea, which he used for breathing while underwater.


We missed getting to photograph this male at the point where he is unfurling his wings and elongating his body, but we were able to catch one of the other 5 nymphs that emerged this day at that stage.



This is possibly his sister. While he chose to emerge in a sunny spot on the plant called Parrot’s Feather, she had chosen this shady spot on the stem of Water Plantain.


His emergence went faster than hers, but she was able to climb further up above the water level, which proved to be an advantage in the long run.


Here she has begun to unfurl her wings which had been folded up within ‘sheaths’ on the back of the nymph’s exoskeleton, sort of like in a ‘backpack’ – but actually a part of the body.





Her wings are getting longer, as is her abdomen! The adult dragonfly is at least twice as long as the nymph. Look at the difference in her size and the size of the exoskeleton she has just emerged from. The exoskeleton, once abandoned, is most properly called the exuvia



Finding an exuvia at a water site means that dragonflies are successfully breeding there.





Back to the male dragonfly that we started out with at the top of this site. He is now at the stage just before he spreads his wings…but, if you look closely, one of his wings is bent! Whoops!


The site where he chose to emerge must have been too close to another plant, and his wing got folded. At the end of the day, all the others had flown off.


This picture taken at 4 PM.



At 8 Pm, we found all the other Meadowhawks had flown off. We even were able to get a picture of the female who finished her emergence first. Two pictures of her are below.


We were worried about this one though, so we carried him inside and will see if he can fly tomorrow, if not – surgery!!



To the left is a photo of the female when she first flew off.



And above is a photo of her showing her ‘pretty face’.



To the left and below is the male whose damaged wing prevented him from flying. 8 PM

We were able to perform surgery (cutting off damaged part of wing) on the damaged wing and the young male above was able to fly. See a .mov of the ‘surgery’ here – K.Biggs March 25th 5 PM