Moral dilemmas and life and death decisions: the confessions of a dragon fly nymph-lover

Zygoptera nymph Ok I confess:, I’ve been hosting a dragon fly nymph, hoping to watch it grow and maybe emerge as a fully grown dragonfly. However, today I gave up. Hosting nymphs is a lot more challenging than hosting humans. Firstly –  nymphs breathe through gills so need enough oxygen in the water – I changed 1/2 the water every couple of hours. Like growing caterpillars (see the mullein moth food issue https://polianthus.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/a-moth-of-many-colours-and-all-of-then-are-brown-mullein-moth-caterpillars-on-my-balcony/ ) growing nymphs just cannot stop eating, they need food. Lots of it. This was the hard bit:  the nymph didn’t like dead food, and it wasn’t fooled if I wobbled the dead insects, I tried, trust me,  just in case you are tempted to try yourself.  Specialist websites tell you that the nymphs are not picky eaters, but it transpires that they, like us,  don’t like all foods equally well. So it’s been a week of trial and error and dilemmas – each time I found a potential victim I asked myself: do I think this one should be fed alive to a chomping nymph or not? Oh laugh if you must, but there was I with a hungry dragon fly nymph on the one hand and a dearth of insects on the other and on top of that an additional problem:  I couldn’t bring myself to feed the nymph:  the beloved daddy long legs of my childhood, spiders, moths and many other harmless insects, which made the whole situation challenging.  Ants I was ok with, but the nymph wasn’t having any of it, so the ants drowned …..cockroaches I had no compunction about, and the nymph really enjoyed those, catching them fast and scarfing them almost entirely until all that was left were two gossamer wings floating on the water. Cockroaches would have made me and the nymph happy enough, but I couldn’t find more than 2…. so I needed to expand my search. Out into the garden I went with a small jam jar and a small spade and started digging, try it some time, finding food for an insect you are keeping in a bucket will transport you straight back to childhood – it’s like being 5 again…. but was I rewarded for my efforts? Nope, I was not. Another of life’s teachings in a small way right there.

Current summer temperature is at 30° and the earthworms are all deep in the cool earth…I found a very small slug, the type you find on salads, it was sacrificed and as soon as it hit the water the nymph grabbed it and wolfed it down,  a small slim earthworm, likewise, hit the water, wriggled once and was grabbed in the middle. The nymph chewed it in half undisturbed by the worms frantic wriggling, and as one half of the worm dropped away and crawled under a leaf, the nymph calmly kept hold of the other end, slowly munching and sucking it in, like someone enjoying a particularly tasty spaghetti. Fascinating but not much fun to watch really, both in the case of insect and human.  In three insect-seeking  trips – which in these temperatures is like digging for oil when the well is dry, I  found woodlice which somehow sound much prettier in Latin: Porcellio scaber – and a centipede. By the time I got them to the nymph the centipede was dead, and the woodlice turned out to be “victus non gratus” – ie non preferred nourishment……so we had a problem the nymph and I, I had to try to find it food – but there wasn’t any, first time I’ve wanted to find more insects. And the nymph had to be hungry.  So after keeping it alive for a week I brought it to my next door neighbour today as a new refugee for her pond. Regretfully I tipped the bucket into the water, slowly so I could see the nymph crawl into the pond, but it stayed behind, seemingly unwilling to leave it’s bucket – a case of Stockholm Syndrome I hope and not starvation induced lethargy. Anyway – no more dilemmas for me, lots of food in the pond for the nymph and hopefully I will soon see a dragon fly in the air and think that’s the one I saved!

Dragonfly adult

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5 thoughts on “Moral dilemmas and life and death decisions: the confessions of a dragon fly nymph-lover

  1. You crack me up with all your insect obsession. That last photo is pretty, dragonflies are pretty insects. My sister and I used to try to catch them when we were kids. You creep very slowly towards them, with your hand ready and then when you’re this close, gotcha …. you pinch their wings. Believe or not, sometimes we caught them. The picture of the nymph, on the other hand, looks like the alien from the movie.

  2. 🙂 I worry myself actually – I wasn’t aware of any particular interest in insects until I started trying to get rid of the ones in my pots and then felt I owed it to them to make sure they were harmful before killing them. So it all started with another dilemma! Can’t believe you managed to catch them they are so fast! You must have been very dedicated, age range 5-7 I guess..

  3. And I would love to know what nymph this is – have checked all through the web to no avail, the picture at the bottom is a Hawker, but I am not sure the nymph is the same species, hawker nymphs I can find online look different…. yes I know it is not a crucial, life threatening, life or death question, but I would love to know!

  4. That nymph is about one or two molts from being full grown. You can
    tell by the length of the wing pads (at the front end of the abdomen)
    compared with the width of the head. When the wing pads are a little
    longer than the head width, it is in its final instar (or stadium as
    some say) and it’s ready for metamorphosis and eventual emergence. You
    can tell when metamorphosis is done and they are getting ready to emerge
    when those wing pads are swollen instead of flat. Information provided by Jim at the http://nwdragonflier.blogspot.ch/

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