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Odonata - Dragonflies and Damselflies

Of all the aquatic insects the dragonflies and damselflies are surely the best known. A few are instantly recognisable, but there are more than forty species in the British Isles and some of them are now very rare. Their irridescent bodies and aerobatic skills make for a fascinating spectacle on bright summer days.

Southern
Hawker
Aeschna cyanea - Southern Hawker Dragonfly
Emperor
Dragonfly
Emperor Dragonfly
Gold-ringed
Dragonfly
Cordulegaster boltonii - Gold-ringed Dragonfly
Downy
Emerald
Cordulia aenea, Downy Emerald Dragonfly
Broad-bodied
Chaser
Libellula depressa - Broad0-bodied Chaser dragonfly
Four-spotted
Chaser
Libellula quadrimaculata, Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly
Black
Darter
Black Darter dragonfly
Red-veined
Darter
Red-veined Darter dragonfly
Common Red
Darter
Common red darter dragonfly
Large Red
Damselfly
Large red damselfly
Beautiful
Demoiselle
Beautiful Demoiselle, Calopteryx virgo
Banded
Demoiselle
Banded Demoiselle, Calopteryx splendens
Azure
Damselfly
Azure Damselfly
Common Blue
Damselfly
Common blue damselfly
Blue-tailed
Damselfly
Ischnura elegans, Blue-tailed Damselfly
Scarce Emerald
Damselfly
Lestes dryas, Scarce Emerald Damselfly

Life Cycle

Most damselflies have a one-year life cycle, while dragonflies are longer lived, some taking five years to reach maturity. The eggs, once hatched, become nymphs (also known as naiads), which live among submerged weeds.

damselnymph

In shallow lakes, the nymphs of damselflies are an important source of food for trout and other fish. Dragonfly nymphs, in contrast, are fierce predators and will attack and kill other aquatic creatures sometimes larger than themselves - we have seen them attack and kill a small newt.

When ready to emerge as adults, the nymphs crawl up weed stems and rest in the sunshine above water level until their outer shucks split to allow the winged adults to emerge. At this stage they are rather dull looking with pallid colouring.

The newly-emerged adults are vulnerable, because they cannot fly until their wings have dried and hardened. They remain very still - for an hour or more in very wet weather; then they take to the air, begin hunting for food (smaller insects) and become increasingly more colourful.

Newly-emerged dragonfly with its discarded exuvia

A recently-emerged Aeschnid dragonfly is shown here. The exuvia (the shuck or final nymphal skin from which it emerged) is also visible. Examining marginal plants and looking closely at any exuvia left clinging to stems is a good way of finding out which kinds of dragonflies live in a pond.

Creating a garden pond is a great way of attracting dragonflies and damselflies into your garden. Several species now breed in the small pond we built in our own garden in West Wales. See our illustrated guide to Making a Garden Pond...


Matching the Hatch

If you found this information helpful, you would probably find the new 2017 edition of our bestselling book Matching the Hatch by Pat O'Reilly very useful. Order your copy here...

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