As I did with butterflies, thought I would do a brief guide to Dragonfly and Damselfly species that may be encountered locally. Also, conclude with a comment about a few sites where dragonflies can be found, often in good number. Hope it helps and encourages folk to get out to see what is about. A warm, sunny day as from 11am is best for finding them. Windy days they won't fly and rainy days they just hide in reeds, sedge and hedgerows.
Damselflies and Dragonflies are found in the insect order called Odonata (meaning toothed jaw.) This order is then split into 3 further suborders: Antisoptera (Dragonflies) and Zygoptera (Damselflies.) A 3rd suborder is called Anisozygoptera, but these don't bother us and most are extinct.
Zygoptera means paired wings whilst Antisoptera means different wings. In total there are over 5,300 species of Odonata in the world, 120 found in Europe and 38 that reside in the UK along with a few that migrate here each year from the continent.
The main difference between dragons and damsels, apart from size is that damsels rest with their wings folded back along the abdomen whilst dragons have stiff wings that remain at 90 degrees from the body at all times.
They have 3 stages in life: egg, larvae and adult. All eggs are laid in water and with dragonflies, they can remain as larvae for up to 3 years before they crawl up vegetation to emerge as an immature adult.
At this time of year, look for their larval skins, called excuvia, that can be found empty, still clinging to sedge and reed, such as this one I encountered at Bat Willow CP last week. Came across another example yesterday. The creature emerges head first through a hole on the thorax part of the body.
|Dragonfly excuvia found at Bat Willow Hurst CP last week.|
Going to look at 10 species that are likely to be found around the town and special ones will be mentioned in a gazetteer at the end of this.
The easiest damselfly to identify. Male is electric metallic blue whilst female is metallic green. Found along river banks and larger ponds. Frequently rests on the top of leaves and sedges. Male shows a dark patch on the wing, easily visible to the naked eye whilst in flight or at rest. Presently very common along the banks of the Stort south of Twyford Locks.
Flight season is early June through until mid August, with the majority being on the wing mid June to early July.
|male Banded demoiselle|
Flight period July through until early September. The male is metallic green, the female a duller green. Can be found in ditches, ponds, lakes and canals, rarely running water such as rivers. Note that there is a black area towards the wingtip. This is called the pterostigma and is thought to help with balance when the insect is gliding. Always good to check this feature, as different species have different colours which can aid identification. Not a common damselfly around Stortford thought it will be seen. Note the blue abdomen and the fact it is white underneath.
Willow emerald Damselfly:
A recent addition to the British list. An excuvia was found in Kent in 1992 but it wasn't recorded on the wing until 2003. Now found all around Stortford, arriving for the first time in Millennium Wood in 2019. An exciting discovery.
Shows a green abdomen and green thorax and head, too so can be distinguished from the Emerald damselfly. A late emerging damsel, often not seen until late August and throughout September. This lateness also helps with id as most similar species will have finished when this emerges. Usually found near ponds, lakes and rivers. First recorded in Herts at Amwell and has spread rapidly from there.
Note the pale coloured ptersostigma.
|Willow emerald damselfly|
White legged damselfly:Distinctive legs as the name implies are a creamy white and can be seen clearly. Also, when looked at more closely, the tibia or lower part of the leg shows long hairy bristles.
|White legged damselfly|
|Note the legs colour and bristles.|
Large red damselfly;
Another easy to identify creature as, to all intents and purposes, the only red damselfly you'll encounter. Usually the first to emerge, often in warm weather at the end of April and can be found right through until mid to late July. A damselfly that can be found in gardens, away from water but will happily breed in the smallest of garden ponds. Also found along banks of larger ponds and lakes, rarely rivers.
|Large red damselfly from our garden in 2020.|
|Better closeup showing black pterostigma|
Now we come to a pair that can be a confusion species. With the next two, both ubiquitous around Stortford, a reasonable photo of the abdomen will aid identification as described below.
The stereotypical blue damselfly showing black markings. Very similar to the Common blue (see below) but one or two pointers.
The main id aid is the pattern on the first 2 segments of the abdomen next to the thorax. On Azure this looks rather similar to the Honda car logo, a sort of H shape, or similar to rugby posts where the mark above the crossbar is longer than the one below. Also, 90% of female Azure damselflies are green whereas very few Common blue damselflies are anything but blue. Easy to spot when they are flying in tandem.
Azures emerge late May and will be on the wing until early August. A really common insect that will be found near any water course, pond, ditch, lake or canal. Can be encountered in their 100's, usually consorting with Common and Blue tailed damselflies.
|Close up of abdomen segments. |
|Common blue damselfly, just see the mark on segment 1, clearly not an H shape.|
|Typical roosting position for Common blue.|
|Red eyed damselfly|
|Small red-eyed damselfly with Common blue in the foreground|
Anisoptera or Dragonflies:
As above, I shall just look at the most likely insects that will be found around town. Others are, yet again possible so always worth checking, especially after hot southerly winds in July and August where species such as Red veined darter or Lesser emperor may have migrated over from central France and the Low Countries.
9 species outlined here.
A medium sized dragonfly, male showing a blue and black abdomen whilst the female shows yellow markings on black. Flight season begins around early August and can last until October and the first frosts. A common sight away from water, patrolling hedgerows. So called, as up until the 1940's it was indeed migratory to the UK but is now well established.
Similar to the Southern hawker, the diagnostic feature is the shape on segment 1 of the abdomen, a yellow mark in the shape of a golf tee whereas the similar Southern hawker displays a triangular shape.
Side views will show an array of yellow on the thorax whilst down the side of the abdomen will be blues and dark browns/blacks depending on how mature the insect is. Shows orange pterostigma.
|Migrant hawker: note the yellow golf tee shape between the 2nd set of wings.|
|Southern hawker, showing yellow triangle. cf Migrant hawker|
|Lateral view of Southern hawker|
|Brown hawker. Note colouration of wings.|
|Male Emperor patrolling low over the water. Note curve in abdomen|
|Female, showing more green, egg laying (ovipositing) at Bat Willow Hurst CP 13th June 2021.|
|Immature, probably female|
|2 spots per wing easily visible.|
|Immature Broad bodied chaser|
|Adult male. Note black on the wings and almost no black at the tip of the abdomen.|
|Black tailed skimmer, lateral view. Note yellow on leading edge of wing.|
|Male Broad bodied Skimmer|
|Common darter, note yellow on legs and straight abdomen|
|Club shaped abdomen visible here. Ruddy darter|
|Female Banded demoiselle.|