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The dragonfly belongs to the Odonata order of insects. Its life cycle consists of both an aquatic and terrestrial phase. During the dragonfly life cycle, the insect goes through the egg, nymph or larval stage, and then the adult stage. The dragonfly has evolved with some adaptations to help it survive in the two different environments as it goes through its process of maturing 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 remain 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 they either actively hunt or passively wait for. 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 enable them grow quickly.
As the dragonfly larvae grow, they progress to feeding on larger insects like mosquito larvae, small fish and tadpoles. During this part of the dragonfly life cycle, the larvae continually molt by shedding their outer skin as they increase in size. Most dragonfly larvae molt between 10 to 15 times before they attain maturity.
Dragonfly larvae have gills that serve two basic purposes. The gills enable them to breathe inside water and also serve as a propellant inside the aquatic environment when water is forced through them. Species of dragonfly vary, and the length of time it takes for the larvae to mature during the dragonfly life cycle depends on the type of species. Some dragonfly species mature in a few weeks while others actually take up to five years to mature.
When dragonfly larvae are finally ready to transform into adults, they often emerge from the water in the evening time and climb up to the leaves of partially submerged vegetation. Otherwise, they will simply float to the surface of the water and start swallowing air. The swallowing of air causes their skin to split so that the mature dragonfly can emerge from the discarded skin. The emergence of the adults from the skin is the last stage in the dragonfly life cycle.