One of my targets this year is to capture the emergence of Britain's first dragonfly to appear in late April, the Hairy Dragonfly. This is one of my favourite dragonflies and is always eagerly anticipated at the start of the season. I have been lucky to capture a few of the nymphs over the winter period which in most cases I have brought home and photographed in my indoor tank. The nymphs are quite distinctive when caught although they have a habit of folding their legs in and remain motionless. You can easily miss them in amongst the plant debris and mud. To increase my chances of photographing the emergence, I have collected a couple and have them in my other large indoor tank where I am rearing them hopefully through to adults. This has given me the chance to study them naturally underwater as they go about their business. By day time, they pretty much remain motionless where they tend to hang upside down but at night time, they are very active as they move through the weeds looking for prey. I have managed to catch a number of small prey items from various ponds but still have to see one actually catch anything. Tonight when I went for a look, I was astonished to witness a great spectacle, well nearly! As I looked into the tank, I was faced by an almost white Hairy Dragonfly nymph. It had literally just moulted its skin which was below it caught on some pond weed. Dragonflies moult their skins up to 15 times during their nymph stage, each time growing a bit until they are fully grown and ready to emerge. Hairy Dragonfly nymphs I have seen before range in colour from dark brown to nearly black so this was quite a sight to see. I measured the shed skin which measured approx 30mm and a few hours later, the nymph was estimated to be about 35mm long. It was certainly obvious to the eye that it was bigger. Having only witnessed this once with an Emperor Dragonfly nymph, I really wanted to try to get some photographs of this. A look on the internet revealed no photos of Hairy Dragonfly nymphs after they had just shed their skin so this spurred me on to try to achieve this. Not wanting to move the delicate nymph, I looked every now and then until at last, the nymph moved near the front of the tank and I prepared the camera. I spent some time just watching this 'ghost' type nymph and managed to then take a number of pleasing photos using manual mode, in camera flash, ISO 400 and speed set to 250. I don't often photograph through the glass of this tank but i'm not complaining, they have worked out nicely showing the fresh nymph in some detail before its starts to darken in colour. I expect a look tomorrow morning will reveal a dark Hairy Dragonfly nymph. A surprising but great session photographing a first for me and yet more learnt about their behaviour. I will remove the shed skin and spend some time photographing this for another post in a few days time. I will continue to watch and learn for some time during the evenings and fingers crossed, these individuals survive until they are ready to emerge.
'Newly' Moulted Hairy Dragonfly Nymph
Hairy Dragonfly Nymph 'shed skin'