From Larva to Lunch: The Brief Life of a Dragonfly Caught on Camera – Guest Article by Steve Russell


8H7A2866Nature can be cruel. After living three years in the muck of a marsh and finally crawling out and miraculously exploding out of its larval exoskeleton in the course of an hour, the life of the brown-eyed dragonfly I had been photographing up close was cut short by the beak of a bird. From larva to lunch in and hour and 14 minutes.

It was last year about this time when I witnessed my first dragonfly “birth” but the larva had attached to my bike tire, not exactly the most natural setting for photographs but fascinating nonetheless. It was also mostly in the shade and I shot it with my macro lens and twin flash. This year’s encounter was in a small marsh and I shot 5-6 feet away in natural but high, mid-day light, and I used my Canon 7D II and a 100-400mm Mark II lens and a hiking pole for additional stability. Dragonflies are big enough to fill a telephoto lens if shot close and with this lens I can get as close as 30 inches or so. As far as I know, nothing beats the versatility of the new 100-400mm II lens for both birds at a distance and dragonflies up close.

At any rate, this year’s shoot was a total surprise – within a few minutes of arriving at my favorite local spot, the larva crawled out of the water and up about six inches on the marsh grass across the tiny pond area and I knew right away that magic would happen. The challenge was finding a sight line through the wind-blown grasses that was compatible with the location of the sun (behind or to the side of me) and low enough to keep my lens parallel to the larva. All this while trying to keep my feet out of the water and timing my shots to when light splashed on the subject as the surrounding grasses waved in the breeze. Photography is hell sometimes.

8H7A3200The event was truly remarkable in and of itself, but reliving the detailed images afterwards had my jaw dropping and it hammered home once again the power of photography. Oh, the bird. After the show was over and I had moved on to other things, I happened to glance over and see a bird land about 20 feet away with a winged insect in its mouth. I snapped a few shots before it flew off and later discovered it had the same variety of dragonfly in its beak as my newly born dragonfly, the only one of that type I’d seen in the area that day. Could it be the same one? Maybe. If so, I hope it enjoyed its 14 minutes of freedom before becoming that bird’s lunch. Nature can be cruel for sure, but I don’t think that’s the way the bird saw it.


Steve Russell