Most insects have a complex life cycle with ecologically different larval and adult stages. We present an ontogenetic perspective to analyze and summarize the complex life cycle of Odonata within an evolutionary ecology framework. Morphological, physiological, and behavioral pathways that generate carry-over effects across the aquatic egg and larval stages and the terrestrial adult stage are identified. We also highlight several mechanisms that can decouple life stages including compensatory mechanisms at the larval and adult stages, stressful and stochastic events during metamorphosis, and stressful environmental conditions at the adult stage that may overrule effects of environmental conditions in the preceding stage. We consider the implications of these findings for the evolution, selection, and fitness of odonates; underline the role of the identified numerical and carry-over effects in shaping population and metapopulation dynamics and the community structure across habitat boundaries; and discuss implications for applied conservation issues.