Dragonfly on Fuchsia

Photograph by Dal


             " Darting from side to side of a rivulet, or reposing in the sunshine" 

Dragonflies and damsel flies belong to the order Odonata and the Superfamily Libelluloides and the family Libellulidae. The Order was once known as the Neuroptera. The Libelluidae contains many Genera.

Here in the UK there are 36 species of dragonflies and 20 species of damselflies. The families of dragonflies in the UK belong to the sub order, Anisoptera which contains the following families.

Cordulegastridae--{ Golden ringed dragonflies}

Corduliidae---------{ Emerald dragonflies}

Libellulidae---------{ Chasers-skimmers-darters}

Gomplidae---------{ Club tailed dragonflies}

Aeshnidae---------{ Hawkers and Emperors}

25 species of dragonflies are resident breeders in the UK. The name Odonata order derives its name from the Greek odontos {tooth] alludes to the fact they have teeth on their mandibles, even though most insects have similar appendages.

The sub order, Anisoptera means different wings { from anisos indicating uneven} alluding to the fact dragonflies hold their wings horizontally away from the body as in the manner of flight, while damselflies hold their wings along the body folded over their backs.

British insects--1871----

In her book British Insects 1871, Miss E.F. Staveley, states, " Terrible enough the dragonflies must be,amongst the smaller and feebler tribes of insects. their larvae and pupae are aquatic and exceedingly voracious, feeding on every inhabitant of the water small enough to be attacked.On land or rather in the air, where swallow-like the dragonfly hunts and seizes its prey upon the wing, they verily are flying dragons. to an hapless fly the swift approach on one of these glittering ' Devil's needles' as they are sometimes called, must be terrible indeed. Their flight is remarkable, the dragonfly being endowed with the power of changing its forward course and moving backwards or laterally without the necessity of turning"

The Common darter, Sympetrum striolatum

Here we review the Common Darter, a common species of the Libellulidae. it is a summer and autumn species and may be encountered on the wing as late as November, and is often the last species on the wing in the UK. The main flight period is from June until October.

This dragonfly is 43-60mm long and breeds in most kinds of still water or slow moving water bodies from small ponds to large lakes, also in rivers,canals, ditches and even slightly brackish water, shaded or unshaded throughout England Wales and Ireland, and parts of Scotland especially the north west.

It is probably the most common dragonfly in the UK. The thorax of both sexes is brown above with poorly defined stripes and yellowish panels on the sides. 

Common red darter

Photograph courtesy of Hydro { creative commons attribution -share alike}

The eyes are brown above and yellow below. The legs are of  greyish black colour with a diagnostic yellow stripe along the length.

The males become bright orange-red at maturity. females have a pale yellowish-brown abdomen, often developing red markings along the segment borders as they age. Juveniles are brown. The various resident and migrant darters in the UK are easily confused, females particularly so. The yellow stripe along the length of the legs and orange-red {rather than blood red} appearance of the male help to distinguish it from the ruddy darter Sympetrum sanguinum, which has a less widespread distribution and occurs mainly from the Midlands southwards, although it is common in Ireland.

Damsel flies

The Damselflies are the dainty relations and are placed in the sub-order Zygoptera which means joined or paired wings, the fore and hind wings being similar in size. Families of the sub-order include---

Lestidae-Emerald damselflies.

Coenagrionidae--- Blue tailed and red damselflies.

Platycnernidae -- white legged damselflies.

Damselflies lay their eggs in or near the water. However, some species, just drop their eggs on the surface. many lay eggs so that they adhere to or are inserted into the stems of aquatic vegetation.

The nymphs usually hatch in late summer or in autumn and may be encountered in ponds. lakes and canals where they will remain throughout the winter until the following spring. When conditions are favourable to them they will leave their watery domain and metamorphose into adults.

Here we review the common blue damselfly which may well be encountered as they fly around the marginal vegetation at most freshwater habitats in Britain. 

Common blue damselfly, Enallagma cyathigeron

it is a typical British damsel fly, although it shares its colouration with other species, it can be instantly distinguished from others by its broad stripes.

Thorax and abdomen sections of the common blue damselfly

Photograph courtesy of L.B. Tettenborn { Creative commons attribution share alike}

The mature male has a mainly sky blue body with dark patches at the joints of the abdomen section. they are up to 32 mm long. The female has a greenish black body and a spine projecting from the underside of the abdominal tip.

It is likely to be confused with  the Azure blue Coenagrion puella which is of a similar length. On the back of the thorax the common blue has more blue than black, the Azure damselfly has more black than blue. Another difference can be observed when inspecting the side of the thorax, the common blue has only one small black stripe there.

The common blue damselfly is widespread across England and Wales and it occurs in Scotland apart from the far north and north east. It occurs on the western side of Ireland.

The Azure blue damselfly is widespread but local throughout England and Wales and the south eastern side of  Ireland. They are more common in the southern counties of England and Wales.

Azure damselfly.

Courtesy of Jorg Hempel CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

Coenagrion puella LC0315.jpg

Conservation  updates-June 2013


There is an ambitious five year plan being undertaken to reintroduce one of the rarest dragonflies back into the region after an absence of a decade or more. The White faced Darter was last seen over pools in Delamere Forest in 2003. The Cheshire Wildlife Trust has reported that White Faced Darters have been observed on the wing. The Project team have also reported a number of other individuals emerging from the water in a specially selected pool where translocation took place earlier in the summer. To read the full article click on the Links on the right hand side of this page. Click.Scroll down to Wildlife Extra. Click- This is a direct link to the Wildlife Extra website home page . Click on news { Rare Dragonflies Reintroduced to Cheshire}

Up date April 2014 Flooding causing concern for  dragonflies and damselflies

The floods which have been particularly bad {earlier in the year} in some areas have caused havoc for people who suffered from them. It is also bad news for dragonflies and damselflies and the nymphs of other water creatures. For they have ,in many cases ,been washed onto the surrounding fields and made easy pickings for birds and small mammals. As they spend three years in the water in the nymph stage losses can take a long time to recover. A by product of this, is that the animals they prey upon ,such as midges will have a bumper year.

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