Metamorphosis of a Dragonfly Caught on Camera – Guest Article by Steve Russell

IMG_3562It was an amazing sight – the transformation of a beetle-like larva into a fully functioning flying dragonfly right before my very eyes – and camera.

I’d been shooting dragonflies this summer at my favorite marshy spot on the edge of nearby Waughop Lake. I happened to look down and spot an ugly little larva crawling along the grass toward my bike, which was laying on the ground. Cool, I thought, and I snapped a couple of shots before it disappeared under my rear tire for the shade, I figured.

I went back to the dragonflies until I needed something else from my pack when I noticed the larva had crawled up onto my tire. Snap-snap, and I went about my business. The third time I passed by, though, there were FOUR eyes looking back at me and it suddenly occurred to me that a dragonfly was pushing its way out of the back of the larva. Wow!

R22A0351I ran over to switch my telephoto lens for a macro and twin flash and returned to shoot the metamorphosis over the next 90 minutes. It was mid-day, high sun, harsh light and the larva had attached itself on the underside of the tire partially in the shade. Not the conditions I would choose, but in documentary or photo journalistic photography (which I would consider this to be in a nature sort of way) you work with what you got when you got it.

This grassy spot is right off the asphalt path that circles the lake and I am sprawled out on the grass, which is covered in goose poop, shooting what must have looked to the frequent passers-by to be my bike tire. Hmmm. But, oblivious to them and to the time, I shot away for an hour and a half trying to capture every conceivable angle knowing that in all likelihood this would be my first and only time with an opportunity like this.

The dragonfly and its huge compound eyes and compacted wings slowly eased out, moved next to the lifeless larva exoskeleton, gradually spread and dried its perfect wings, and with its stored genetic knowledge intact, launched its first flight flawlessly – off my bike tire. After surviving for two to three years as a larva in the muck of the lake bottom, it would live to fly, eat and procreate for perhaps another three to four WEEKS – the normal post-larval lifespan of a dragonfly.

It was purely by chance that I got to see (and shoot, no less) such a miraculous event. These may not be Pulitzer Prize winning photos, but they’ll forever distinguish my summer of 2014.

When viewing these photos keep in mind that I purposely re-oriented some right-side-up to make it easier to view them. Also, the last image is, as best I can tell, an adult version of the same type of dragonfly in great light, but it is NOT the same one.

Steve Russell
www.steverussellphotos.com