Dragonfly nymphs

by Richard Jones

Peering into the [...] water, after the initial algal bloom and water-flea dance auditions, I can see some squat mud-coloured gargoyles resting menacingly just below the water line.

Close-up of pond in a school yardEarlier this year I helped put together a small pond in the playground at Ivydale Primary School in Nunhead. When it was first built, of wooden railway sleepers and rigid fibreglass insert, it may have looked a bit bleak, but I had faith that wildlife would find it soon enough. And they have.

Peering into the now clear water, after the initial algal bloom and water-flea dance auditions, I can see some squat mud-coloured gargoyles resting menacingly just below the water line. They are dragonfly nymphs (or sometimes naiads in North America), and they must be amongst the ugliest insects to be found.

Close-up of a dragonfly nymph in the palm of a handUnlike their elegant, brightly coloured, glittering adult stages, dragonfly nymphs are stout and drab - perfectly adapted to life in the gloomy murk at the bottom of lakes, ponds and streams. I'd always imagined them as patient sit-and-wait pouncing predators. They have a bizarre hinged jaw mechanism, with the claw-like biting mouthparts perched on the end of an extending articulated proboscis, like an extra, seventh, limb that can suddenly jab forwards to snatch and grab a tadpole or mosquito larva. I don't know how much sitting and waiting they normally have to do, but they are a lot more agile than I first thought. When I tentatively put my hand in to catch one it quickly scuttled out of sight into the depths.

Armed with a small kitchen sieve I eventually caught one. I'm not sure of the species yet, but a dragonfly rather than a damselfly. It seemed rather small and clumsy in my hand, but then I suppose it was rather like a fish out of water.

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Gardeners' World Web User 30/09/2010 at 21:08

hello richard i was shocked to see the pond up on this web site, my son attends ivydale school where i voluntered to help with the wild life garden earlier this year,i helped choose the plant around the pond also planting them,i check on the pond daily it looks great can you let me know what maintence is needed,ie:duck weed thanks

Gardeners' World Web User 01/10/2010 at 09:32

Hi everyone, we're having a few problems with our spam filter at the moment. Please do continue to leave comments - if they don't appear immediately we'll keep fishing them out of the spam folder until the matter has been resolved. Kate

Gardeners' World Web User 03/10/2010 at 21:11

Reply to Jacqueline Belchem Ponds can look after themselves pretty well, as long as nothing gets out of hand...but duckweed is likely to. Just keep an eye on it and skim off as much as you can every so often. It is impossible to eradicate entirely, but as long as you keep most of the surface clear, it will not smother everything else. One important point for this pond, surrounded by tarmac, do not let anyone put frogs, toads, newts or spawn in. These creatures only breed in water, most of the year they are terrestrial. The moment they climb out of the pond and down onto the playground, they will be picked off by predators or succumb to drought and starvation.

Gardeners' World Web User 31/10/2010 at 09:52

Dragonfly nymph invasion ! I have a small garden pond, 2m diameter, which has in past years been a haven for frogs, snails and aquatic insects. This year, however, the frogspawn, tadpoles and snails disappeared at an early stage and through the summer the pond has appeared almost devoid of insectlife - except for a number of dragonfly nymphs. This autumn, clearing some of the debris from the bottom of the pond I disturbed dozens of these fearsome looking creatures. I believe they are nymphs of the Common Hawker dragonfly as these have been observed egg-laying in previous summers. What should I do ? The dragonflies themselves are magnificent creatures - but I would prefer my pond to return to it previous biodiversity !

Gardeners' World Web User 01/11/2010 at 09:01

Reply to Richard Although dragonfly nymphs are near-top-end predators, they should not have caused everything else to disappear. Otherwise they, quite literally, eat themselves out of house and home. If they are being too voracious, and are picking everything else off, perhaps you need to increase the plant complexity in the water, creating more hiding places for the prey to escape to.

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