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Forget Butterflies. Dragonflies Have an Ever Better Story!

photo: Bahman Farzad on flickr

photo: Bahman Farzad on flickr

How many times have you heard the story of the butterfly emerging from its cocoon?

Maybe fifteen hundred billion times?

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good butterfly story. It’s a great metaphor for growth and transformation.

I especially like hearing about how, when they’re in the cocoon stage, they’re relegated to total mush. I’ve been total mush more than a few times in my life, and I’m always glad to hear I’m not the only one.

But all this time, the dragonfly has been quietly undergoing a most remarkable metamorphosis.

Again and again and again.

photo: Donnie Nunley on flickr

photo: Donnie Nunley on flickr

Here’s what happens:

Most of the dragonfly’s life is spent underwater.

That’s right. Underwater.

We think of the dragonfly and we think of a groovy, tattoo-inspiring insect that can fly in six directions and doesn’t take crap from anyone.

But first, they have to spend some serious time in the depths.

Not that they don’t have fun while they’re there.

The dragonfly’s underwater form is called a nymph. I suspect this is to impress the mermaids, but that’s just a theory.

i wanna impress them. just sayin.

The nymph is a busy little creature. It spends most of its time using its extendable jaws to catch tiny aquatic animals.

But that’s not all.

The nymphs “breathe through gills in their rectum, and can rapidly propel themselves by suddenly expelling water through the anus.”

That’s from Wikipedia. I’m not making this stuff up.

The nymph has a lifespan of up to five years. That’s five years of gulping down aquatic animals and propelling themselves at lightning speeds around the pond.

But eventually, the nymph wants more.

After spending a majority of its life underwater, the nymph is prompted to emerge from its watery existence and crawl onto a reed, above the water’s surface.

photo: Rictor Norton and David Allen on flickr

photo: Rictor Norton and David Allen on flickr

What causes our friend to burst from the depths?

Is it the desire for freedom? The desire for a fuller expression of life?

Or is it the desire to propel itself around the world with wings instead of, um, another part of its anatomy?

Who can say? Only the nymph.

photo: Roderick T on flickr

photo: Roderick T on flickr

Once situated on its reed, the nymph – now in larva form – is exposed to air for the first time. This exposure causes the larva to begin breathing.

How awesome is that? From water to air, adapting itself to each environment.

But it gets even better.

Now that the larva has transitioned to its new surroundings, its skin splits at a weak spot behind the head and an adult dragonfly crawls out.

photo: Clinton & Charles Robertson on flickr

photo: Clinton & Charles Robertson on flickr

photo: Clinton and Charles Robertson on flickr

photo: Clinton & Charles Robertson on flickr

No more being stuck underwater, chasing after tiny bugs. Now this baby can fly.

It can fly forwards, backwards, up, down, and side to side. It can cruise the world in all its dragonfly glory, gulping up midges and flies along the way.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the dragonfly spends just a small portion of its life in this stage before it sails off to Dragonfly Heaven.

But what a life!

photo: Ana_Cotta on flickr

photo: Ana_Cotta on flickr

Now that we’ve taken a light-hearted romp through the life cycle of the dragonfly, I’d like to get serious for a minute.

(It will just be a minute, I promise!)

How often have you been the nymph?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve often had to spend a lot of time under water before I was able to emerge in my dragonfly glory. I’ve always been something of a late bloomer, and the dragonfly’s process speaks to me.

My sexuality. My gender orientation. My “coming out of the closet” as a spiritual seeker. It took me a long time to move from my private depths to a high-flying, out-in-the-world existence.

One aspect of this story that’s important is that there’s nothing wrong with the depths.

The time I spent discovering and collecting myself was invaluable. Indeed, not pushing myself to come out before I was ready was life-saving.

As for the nymph, it has a fabulous time down in the depths. It’s gobbling bugs galore. And it has a super-charged butt. Life doesn’t get much better than that.

Until it does.

Every stage of the journey is important. And powerful. And magnificent.

Thanks to the dragonfly, we now have another beautiful story of transformation. Butterflies have been getting all the glory for years. It’s time for dragonflies to have their turn.

So here’s to the dragonfly!

Whether it’s an underwater bug-gobbler, or a high-flying bad-ass, the dragonfly has something teach us all!

photo: Bùi Linh Ngân on flickr

photo: Bùi Linh Ngân on flickr

How do you relate to the story of the dragonfly? How does it inspire your own journey? Share your comments below!

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39 Responses to Forget Butterflies. Dragonflies Have an Ever Better Story!

  1. Ken May 7, 2013 at 6:27 am #

    This is an awesome post, and I love the humor you’ve used :). I wrote a blog about my own spiritual “coming out of the closet” a few months ago, and I really resonate with the part about the time spent underwater being a necessary phase of “doing the inside work”.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Z Egloff May 7, 2013 at 10:27 am #

      Hi Ken,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, the underwater depths really are an important part of the process, aren’t they? Without that time, we couldn’t soar afterwards.

      Thanks for stopping by. Come back again any time! :)


  2. Lori Louise Lawrence May 7, 2013 at 6:33 am #

    Pretty dang groovy!

    As a biology fan, I knew the general outline of this story. Except for the water-fart propulsion thing. And I had taken it as a metaphor for my life before, as well. But this is the first time I’ve spent so much reflection on the metaphor, and I appreciate your ability and willingness to grub around in the depths (or “nymph” around … maybe that could become a verb….) to plumb it for richness.

    Thanks for your insight and humor. It’s a good mix.

    Lori Louise

    • Z Egloff May 7, 2013 at 10:24 am #

      Hi LLL!

      Yeah, the wart-fart-propulsion thing was a little-known secret. Until now.

      I agree that “nymph” could make a great verb. Especially when we’re in the depths and thinking that something is going wrong. No, it’s not. We’re just “nymphing.” It’s important work.

      Thanks for your comment! :)


  3. Whitefire May 7, 2013 at 9:17 am #

    If it takes the dragonfly that long to “come out”, I guess we don’t need to give ourselves such a hard time for coming out as our various selves.

    Hel-l-l-l-l-p! My business woman self is s-p-l-i-t-t-i-n-n-n-g!!!!!!!!!

    Dragonflies ARE amazing. Here are 3 more tidbits.

    From the time a dragonfly egg hatches, it can live anywhere from six months to six years, but only about two months as an actual dragonfly. (fact, most of the time spent is as a nymph in the water before the dragonfly’s metamorphosis into a full grown dragonfly.)

    Yeah and a dragonfly’s eyes have about 30,000 lenses and a dragonfly can see all the way around it, but they don’t see details very well,

    And about those flying wings: They have two sets of wings so they only have to flap 30 times a second and can fly at speeds of up to 36 miles per hour
    There were huge dinosaur dragonflies that lived 300 million years ago. (fact – the largest fossil found had a 2 ½ foot wingspan!

    • Z Egloff May 7, 2013 at 10:17 am #

      Hi Whitefire,

      Thank you for the additional facts about this amazing creature. I didn’t know about the huge dinosaur dragonflies – yikes! I also like the 30,000 lenses part. They really are amazing. And yes, we really don’t need to give ourselves such a hard time about taking our own sweet time to emerge in all our glory. That’s just that way it is! :)


      • Marylyn May 11, 2013 at 8:31 pm #

        What I want to know is, who counted all those 30,000 lenses???

        • Z Egloff May 14, 2013 at 11:50 am #

          Kate Frias?!

  4. Karen May 7, 2013 at 11:09 am #

    Another wondrous post, Z. Terrific, fresh metaphor

    I’ll look at dragonflies now with new-found appreciation, that’s for sure.

    Whenever we split open our old skin and begin to fly is the right time for us, I reckon. And the process continues, as we ever find new heights to explore.

    K. :)

    • Z Egloff May 8, 2013 at 11:53 am #

      Hi K! :)

      Yes, it’s a continual process, isn’t it? That’s the cool part. We get to have fun being the nymph and dragonfly over and over again. Not a bad way to spend a life. Or lifetimes.


  5. Tom Yanes May 7, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

    Z, I always enjoy your blogs but this was every bit entertaining as it was enlightening.

    • Z Egloff May 8, 2013 at 11:54 am #

      Hi Tom,

      Awesome to see you here!

      So glad you liked the post. I aim to please. 😉


  6. Josh Beasley May 7, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    Z, I’ve read two posts on this blog and I’m already hooked. Ha! You have a wonderful way of writing. This was such a great entry and quite a refreshing, inspiring way to look at a situation that can trouble many. I’m glad you found your wings. :)


    • Z Egloff May 8, 2013 at 11:56 am #

      Hi Josh,

      One of the coolest things about doing this blog is when I get a comment from one of the awesome flickr photographers like you. I’m SO glad you liked the post. And I so appreciate your contribution to the fun. This blog is continually uplifted and improved by the amazing images of photographers like you. So thank you! :)


  7. M May 7, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

    In Indian lore–likely Navajo–there is a dragon fly story that goes like this:

    The first Dragon Fly that you see after someone has made their transition ….is the souldof that person coming to let you know that they are truly alright AND that they are thankful for you in their llife.

    Cool/ neat….Huh?

    Travelto the Laguna in Sebastopol….and witness every\ so many mymphs, larvae and adults of every kind and varity….


    • Rita May 8, 2013 at 3:42 am #

      I’ve heard a story, in fact there is a children’s book, ” When someone dies”, pertaining to the dragon fly. It’s wonderful book to read. I think of my love ones that have died. It’s an assurance that they are still here with me.

      • Z Egloff May 8, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

        Hi Rita,

        Thanks for the heads up about the book. Dragonflies are powerful little creatures. Nice to know that they are the carriers of so much hope for so many, including children.


    • Z Egloff May 8, 2013 at 11:58 am #


      I like it. Given the dragonfly’s ability to plunge to the depths, it’s not surprising that they can travel to all sorts of realms. And back.

      I look forward to checking out the real-life nymphs and larva in the future. Thanks for the tip on where I can do that.


  8. Annette T May 7, 2013 at 8:00 pm #

    “The nymphs “breathe through gills in their rectum, and can rapidly propel
    themselves by suddenly expelling water through the anus.”

    Wow! I thought I was the only one!

    • Z Egloff May 8, 2013 at 12:04 pm #


      LOL. I’m pretty sure you’re the only human who can do this. Though if there are others out there, we’ll probably hear about them, or hear them, soon enough.


      • Marylyn May 11, 2013 at 8:33 pm #

        Have you met Kate Frias??

        • Z Egloff May 13, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

          LOL! Of course. How could I forget?! :)

  9. dragonfly wings May 7, 2013 at 8:46 pm #

    Amazing…I have had the dragonfly spirit as my totem for 20 years and hadn’t heard this version of the life and metamorphosis. I relate in so many ways. I was referred to as a nymph in my younger years but for a bit different reason B-) I have always been in the company of butterfly people but the dragonfly follows me as I journey through my life. The correlation with coming out makes all the sense in the world to me. Thank you for your amazing style, it put insight and humor to the most amazing creature ever!

    • Z Egloff May 8, 2013 at 12:03 pm #

      What a beautiful spirit to have a your totem! I’m so glad that you were able to find insight and humor in this post.

      I was amazed when I learned about the dragonfly’s journey and I’m grateful to be able to share it here. Thanks for stopping by! :)


  10. Karen Fry May 7, 2013 at 8:57 pm #

    You rock! I so love the story of the dragonfly and how it can relate to life!
    Keep writing! We need it!


    • Z Egloff May 8, 2013 at 12:05 pm #


      Glad you enjoyed this little tale. Pretty cool, eh? Thanks for your comment. :)


  11. Jo Lauer May 7, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

    I was totally into your story, hanging on your metaphors…then I read about how Annette breathes. I just can’t seem to shake the picture. Sigh. :-)

    • Z Egloff May 8, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

      Hi Jo,

      I know, it’s a real image, isn’t it? I get an audio with the visual as well. Amazing.


  12. Patty Stratton May 8, 2013 at 9:54 pm #

    Thanks Z! I’ve loved dragonflies the last few years, but this has given me a whole new appreciation. I was terrified of them when I was 3 and they would fly around our swimming pool. A few years ago when I was going through a particularly difficult time I saw 2 dragonflies outside my bedroom window many days and various other places too. At the time I felt that it was a message that my parents (who had both passed) were sending me love and comfort. Reading the post from M I feel even more comforted and supported. What a night!

    XOXO Patty

    • Z Egloff May 9, 2013 at 11:47 am #

      Hi Patty!

      So fun to see you here. :)

      Thank you for sharing your experience with dragonflies. They are truly a blessing to all of us. I am grateful that you and others have shared about the dragonfly representing the spirit of people who have passed. This adds to my appreciation of these beautiful little creatures.

      Stop by again any time!


  13. Sandy May 9, 2013 at 9:54 am #

    Wow! I have always been enamored with the fact that the dragonfly has up to 30,000 lens in each eye. I will re-read this blog and revel in the glory of the dragonfly, my teacher.

    • Z Egloff May 9, 2013 at 11:55 am #

      Hi Sandy,

      30,000 lenses in each eye is truly an amazing thing. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to see like the dragonfly, even if just for a minute?!

      Thank you for your comment! :)


  14. Norma Miller May 9, 2013 at 11:02 am #

    I just loved this, one of your best. Your gift of writing was so in this piece. I also respect the dragonfly now and all life has its ups and downs.Nature is beautiful. Love to you dear Z. Norma

    • Z Egloff May 9, 2013 at 11:57 am #

      Hi Norma!

      So glad you enjoyed the post! Nature is a powerful teacher. I was amazed when I first heard of the dragonfly’s journey, and I knew I had to turn it into a blog post. The dragonfly is a gift to us all.


  15. Roderick T May 11, 2013 at 2:15 am #

    Thank for using my photo. Taken in my garden after grandchildren had bee pond dipping.

    Remember dragonflies have predators too, such as the hobby as shown in this excellent photo, alas not one of mine. http://bit.ly/1204DJw

    • Z Egloff May 14, 2013 at 11:50 am #

      Hi Roderick,

      Thanks for your photo. I really appreciate having such a great shot of the dragonfly nymph on this post. Thanks for sharing this other photo as well – great shot! (Thought not such a great day for that particular dragonfly, I guess.) :)



  16. Claire May 12, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

    love this! love you! I so appreciate your wisdom sharing and enlightening way of using words to delightfully express the art of living a life worth loving.

    • Z Egloff May 14, 2013 at 11:52 am #

      Hi Claire,

      I like this: “a life worth loving.” Thanks for that.

      And I’m glad you liked the post! For me, the dragonfly is a real inspiration in all phases of the journey.

      Fly and be free! :)



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