© 2014 by Barbara Copperthwaite.

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Beautiful Demoiselle, by Barbara Copperthwaite, Go Be Wild

Here be dragons

As the weather heats up the air is dominated by an awe-inspiring and ancient hunter: the dragonfly.

There is a heat haze above the pond where weary walkers rest in the sunshine. Needles of blue or red flash in the air amongst vegetation fringing the water, or dart across the surface to then rest on a lily pad. These are damselflies.

   Then something else catches the eye. Through the shimmer of the air a predator can be seen twisting this way and that, cutting through the air like a knife through butter, and turning acrobatically in ways that the Red Arrows can only dream of enviously. Everyone’s eyes are on it: even the most disinterested nature-watcher cannot fail to be arrested by the sight.

   These are hawker and darter dragonflies on the wing. When one comes close by its wings give a faint buzz, and they catch the light to give an occasional glint that seems almost magical. 

It is a beautiful sight. And also a 

deadly one. Dragonflies have barely changed their design since they first started flying around 350 million years ago. Why would they bother evolving when they are already so perfectly designed for their lives as predators?

 

such strong fliers as dragonflies, and as such can be easier to study – look out for them resting on grass stalks or leaves near ponds, ditches, canals or bogs.

   By late-May to early June the Large Red will have been joined by smaller damselflies the Azure, Common Blue, Blue-tailed, and Red-eyed damselflies. In June the rest of Britain’s twenty or so kinds of damselflies appear.

   Most breeds of damsel are around 3-4cm long with long thin bodies. The Large Red is 4-5cm long and a slightly thicker, sturdier build, hence its name. Two other damselflies are also conspicuously larger than their fellows: the banded and beautiful demoiselles. Both are incredibly striking thanks to their glorious, iridescent colours, which flash in the sunlight – the females are emerald green, while males appear a deeper blue. They won’t be found at ponds, but instead on rivers and streams.

   By comparison, the biggest British dragonfly, the Emperor, has a wingspan of about 10cm 

 

as April, if weather is good. By June it should be a common sight near ponds, its deep crimson body, with variable amounts of black near the base of its abdomen, making it easy to identify. Damselflies are not 

Large Red Damselfly, Go Be Wild! Barbara Copperthwaite
Common Hawker dragonfly, Barbara Copperthwaite, Go Be Wild

   As their appearance would suggest, dragonflies and damselflies are closely-related. They are collectively known by the scientific name Odonata. So how can you tell the difference between them? The easiest way is to look at them at rest: dragonflies rest with their wings spread out at a right angle to their bodies, while damselflies fold them back along their body. Simple!

   Flaming June is the month damselflies and dragonflies really start to dominate the air. The first to make an appearance is usually the Large Red Damselfly, which can be seen from as early 

MIGRANT HAWKER

(main pic, top, Beautiful Demoiselle)

LARGE RED DAMSELFLY

COMMON BLUE DAMSELFLY