Little is known about the ecological correlates and macro-evolution of life history plasticity to time constraints. Here, we compared age and mass at emergence and their plasticity toward combinations of time constraints (delayed larval development), food level and predation risk (caged dragonfly larvae) by rearing two temporary-pond Lestes damselflies (L. congener and L. forcipatus) and the derived vernal-pond L. dryas from the eggs until adult emergence in outdoor tubs. Life history plasticity under time constraints, low food and predation risk was as predicted by optimality models. Delayed larvae in all three species accelerated development and showed a lower fat content and a substantially elevated mortality rate. At low food, all species emerged later at a smaller mass. Also under predation risk adults of all species emerged later, and (at high food) at a smaller mass. Unexpectedly, delayed larvae did not show a smaller life history response to predation risk imposed by dragonfly larvae. Compared to the two temporary-pond Lestes studied, the derived species that invaded more ephemeral vernal ponds showed a faster development rate and a lower deceleration of development to low food. It also showed a lower acceleration of development to time constraints, possibly reflecting that it reached development rates near to its physiological maximum. Unexpectedly, the vernal-pond Lestes did not slow its development less under predation risk. Our results stress the importance of evaluating ecological and evolutionary correlates of life history plasticity under as realistic conditions as possible.