Thursday, November 3, 2011

ODONATE OVIPOSITION

Egg laying is a very important part of the life of an insect, as the number and placement of the eggs influences where the larvae that hatch from them will live and how many of its own species it will have to compete with. The presence of other animals that are potential predators on the eggs must also be taken into consideration. Oviposition occurs in two quite different fashions in the dragonflies and damselflies, order Odonata.

Exophytic egg-layers extrude fertilized eggs, often in a clump, through the genital opening in their eighth abdominal segment. The female flies over the water, stopping at intervals to descend to the surface and tap the abdomen in the water, releasing the cluster of eggs. This mode is characteristic of most dragonfly families, for example skimmers (Libellulidae), emeralds (Corduliidae), and clubtails (Gomphidae).

There are several variations on this theme. Numerous species splash eggs onto the adjacent bank in drops of water, perhaps to make the eggs safer from aquatic predators. The larva will find its way to the water upon hatching. Some members of the skimmer family drop single eggs one at a time onto dry land in basins that fill up with winter rains. Their larvae develop during the spring and emerge as adults in midsummer, then hanging around as the pond dries up to lay eggs in the pond basin after it dries up in the heat of late summer.

Others actually deposit their egg masses on leaves and stems above the water, and the larvae drop into the water when the eggs hatch.

Dragonflies of the darner family (Aeshnidae) and all damselflies are endoophytic egg layers, utilizing a quite different oviposition strategy. These odonates have well-developed ovipositors at the end of the abdomen, and they insert eggs singly or in pairs into plant tissues. These eggs are much better protected against predation than the exophytically laid eggs, placed precisely rather than scattered, and fewer of them are laid.

Endophytic ovipositors typically have a clutch size (the number of eggs matured in one batch) of one to two hundred eggs and typically lay only a few clutches. However, long-lived females may lay more clutches, eventually totaling in the low thousands of eggs in their lifetime. Exophytic ovipositors lay smaller eggs more quickly (up to 300/minute in some species), and their clutch sizes are larger, in the thousands, but with lifetime totals perhaps no higher than the longer-lived endophytic species.

Oviposition sites are presumably chosen as good larval habitats, and several egg-laying females will often collect at the same spot, presumably attracted by the ones already there.

Because female dragonflies are a scarce resource at the water, males will always try to mate with them, and in many species, the male stays hooked up to the female with which he has mated through the oviposition process to keep other males away from her. Thus both exophytic and endophytic ovipositors may be seen doing so in tandem.

Dennis Paulson

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