The emergence of the dragonfly

The emergence of the dragonfly

Posted 7th Jul 2017

Image courtesy of Jamie Hall

Summer sees the emergence of a number of dragonflies and damselflies (their smaller and more delicate relatives), together known as Odonata

Electric blue damselflies, no bigger than a darning needle, will be found fluttering through the reeds, while demoiselles, with beautiful coppery blue patches in their wings, flap out from overhanging willow branches along the river bank. At the same time, males will be seen battling low over the water, looking to secure the best territories.

Small blood-red darters, powder blue skimmers and chasers, and large powerful hawkers will do exactly what their names suggest, darting and skimming, chasing and hawking, as they hunt for their insect prey.

Our largest dragonflies are two very different beasts. In the lowlands of England and south Wales, you can expect to find the sky blue emperor dragonfly, often found patrolling back and forth over the water.

However, if you'd like to catch sight of the golden-ringed dragonfly, you will need to head upland. An impressive black flyer, with apple green eyes and bright yellow bands ringing the body, the female can reach over 8cm in length, making her the country's longest insect. They can be found patrolling small moorland streams in Scotland, Wales, the north of England and the south west.

These two species can seem big, but are mere whipper-snappers in comparison to dragonflies fossils that have been found, the largest of which had a shocking wingspan which measured 75cm across.

Dragonflies are also pretty hardy survivors - they've been around for at least 325 million years, and were around for 100 million years before the dinosaurs turned up, and outliving them by another 66 million years.

How to do it

There are more than 40 species of dragonfly and damselfly in the UK, and they can be found in almost every habitat. The earliest damselflies are on the wing by early May, while the last common darter of the year can still be found on a warm October day. The highest number of species can be found during July and August - like most insects, they will be most active in warm and sunny conditions, so you should pick your day carefully. Binoculars will be very helpful, as most species of odonata will fly off if you get too close. You should remember to take care at the water's edge.

There are very few places where you don't stand a chance of finding a dragonfly - several species will travel a long way away from water, to feed in gardens, fields and woodland edges. The migrant hawker is one of the greatest wanderers, and can often be found wandering along sheltered hedgerows in August and September.

Special spots

Decoy Heath in Berkshire may not be a large reserve, but it’s one of the best places to see dragonflies in the country, with a very impressive 23 different species known to have bred in its shallow pools, including the rare small red damselfly.

Anglesey, Cors Goch

Bedfordshire, Felmersham Gravel Pits

Berkshire, Greenham and Crookham Commons

Berkshire, Wildmoor Heath

Cumbria, Bowness-on-Solway

Cumbria, Foulshaw Moss

Derbyshire, Carr Vale Flash

Derbyshire, The Avenue Washlands

Dorset, Upton Heath

Gloucestershire, Woorgreens

Linconlshire, Deeping Lakes

Lincolnshire, Whisby Nature Park

London, Crane Park Island

Norfolk, Roydon Common and Grimston Warren

Norfolk, Upton Broad and Marshes

Northamptonshire, Summer Leys

Northumberland, Falstone Moss

Suffolk, Redgrave and Lopham Fen

Surrey, Chobham Common

Surrey, Thundry Meadows

Worcestershire, Knapp and Papermill

Text and information courtesy of The Wildlife Trusts

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