Treasure – Close Up!

Today’s Photography 101 theme: “treasure” and close-ups.  I was going to post some very close up photos of insects I found in the pond yesterday, my favorite “treasures” to go hunting for, but I got distracted.  I went to set up my tank this morning so I could start taking photos of them when I noticed that the damselfly from yesterday had just molted, moments before!  So, my “treasure” photos aren’t insects from the pond as planned.  Instead, they represent a treasured moment, the sort of serendipitous moments I come across now and then when I get to see and photograph something ephemeral and special.  This damselfly, an ebony jewelwing, had been free from its old exoskeleton for just a few minutes and was still in the process of stretching out and hardening the new exoskeleton:

Ebony jewelwing , freshly molted

Ebony jewelwing , freshly molted

And an inch away, lying limp, was its old exoskeleton:

Ebony jewelwing exuvia

Shed exoskeleton

For those of you who are new to my blog, those little white strings are part of the respiratory system of the previous stage.  When insects molt, they shed their entire exoskeleton, which includes part of their digestive, reproductive, and respiratory tracts.  Those white bits were pulled out of the little series of tubes that insects use to breathe and the freshly molted nymph walked away with a brand new respiratory lining.

As often as I take photos of aquatic insects, I rarely get to see them molt, so I was thrilled I got to see at least part of this shed!  Apparently something went wrong as this damselfly was building its new exoskeleton though.  It only had two of three gills when I scooped it out of the stream. After it molted, it was down to one, but I got to see the gill stretch out and reach its full length, then start to change from the pale cream you see in the photo above to its more typical brown.  So much fun!

It’s always great to get to see something a little out of the ordinary like this!  And tomorrow, I’ll have pond insects for sure.  :)

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth.

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10 thoughts on “Treasure – Close Up!

    • Not a dumb question at all! So the deal with damselflies is that they breathe by absorbing oxygen through their exoskeleton. The gills enlarge the surface area of the exoskeleton and have a lot of the little tubes that make up their respiratory system concentrated there so that they can more effectively breathe. However, the gills are not 100% essential. While losing a gill – or all their gills – will impact the amount of oxygen they can absorb because it decreases their surface area, they can still absorb oxygen through the rest of their body. It will slow them down a bit, and that can put them at greater risk of predation or other problems, but they can and often will develop normally. It just takes a little longer without the gills. Damselflies lose their gills all the time – they’re very easy to break off. Some scientists wonder how much of an improvement the gills even make given that they can survive without them entirely with only minimal impacts on their development.

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