Dragonfly larvae usually feed on mosquito larvae.
The dragonfly belongs to the insect order Odonata. Its life cycle consists of an aquatic and terrestrial phase. During the dragonfly life cycle, the insect passes through the egg, nymph or larval stage and then to the adult stage. The dragonfly has evolved with some adaptations to help it survive in the two different environments as it goes through its maturation process from an egg to an adult.
The dragonfly life cycle begins when a female lays her eggs in or near water. If the eggs are laid near a water source, they will lie dormant until the rains come and cause the water level to rise. The eggs will hatch when the temperature is right and the larvae or nymph will emerge from the eggs in about a month.
This first stage of the dragonfly life cycle is spent in the aquatic environment. Dragonfly larvae feed on tiny aquatic organisms, which either actively hunt or passively wait. They have adapted a specialized lip that can extend up to a third of their body length. The larvae feed voraciously on the small aquatic organisms to allow them to grow quickly.
As dragonfly larvae grow, they progress to feed on larger insects such as mosquito larvae, small fish and tadpoles. During this part of the dragonfly’s life cycle, the larvae molt continuously, shedding their outer skin as they increase in size. Most dragonfly larvae molt between 10 to 15 times before reaching maturity.
Dragonfly larvae have gills that serve two basic purposes. The gills allow them to breathe in water and also serve as a propellant in the aquatic environment when water is forced through them. Dragonfly species vary and the time it takes for larvae to mature during the dragonfly life cycle depends on the type of species. Some dragonfly species mature in a few weeks, while others take up to five years to mature.
When dragonfly larvae are finally ready to develop into adults, they often emerge from the water at dusk and climb onto the leaves of partially submerged vegetation. Otherwise, they will simply float on the surface of the water and start gulping air. Swallowing air causes their skin to crack so that the mature dragonfly can emerge from the discarded skin. The emergence of adults from the skin is the last stage of the dragonfly’s life cycle.