(4in) and a body-length of around 8cm (over 3in). An active dragonfly, it rarely settles and even eats whilst in flight. Both sexes have a bright, apple-green thorax and green or blue eyes, but their abdomens differ. The male has a sky blue abdomen with a central dark line; the female has a green abdomen, similarly marked, which may become blue in warm weather. Thanks to their impressive size they are easily identifiable – also look for the fact they often fly with the rear of the abdomen bent slightly downwards.
The eggs of dragon and damselflies are laid either into the stems or leaves of aquatic plants, or directly into water. Within a few days the eggs have hatched and the nymphs start their life as ferocious predators capable of feeding on pretty much any living thing they encounter, from water fleas and insect larvae to tadpoles.
Most dragonfly nymphs complete their development in one year, although larger species such as the Emperor dragonfly take two and a half years. When they are ready they move towards the shore and during late spring or early summer they climb the stems and leaves of tall plants. There, they bask in the sunshine and make the incredible change from a creature of water to one of air. As their skin dries a split will develop along their backs and adult dragonflies emerge, pale at first, with crumpled wings. Their full colour will develop over the next few days, but now, as soon as their gauzy wings are fully-extended and dry, they take flight.
They are perfectly equipped as aerial predators. Their large compound eyes, which take up
most of the globular head, give them incredible 360 degree
vision. Imagine being able to see everything all around you, all at once! What’s more, because the eyes are made up of thousands of tiny facets, they can detect small movements from a great distance.
Once they have spotted their prey (anything from midges to butterflies to fellow odonata) their impressive flying skills come to the fore. They can fly forwards, backwards, sideways, and hover, and change their direction with blinding speed. This is because they can move each of their four wings individually, giving them almost endless manoeuvrability.
Once they catch up with their prey they use their legs to grab them from the air. The inner surface of a dragonfly’s legs have rows of sharp spines which mesh together to form a trap when the
legs are held in front of the dragonfly’s head.
From the moment they get their wings, their life is running
out. Most damselflies live for between two and four weeks, while dragonflies can live up to two months. That is why the summer months are such a flurry of activity for them – they must make the most of this one chance to breed.
The male uses two pairs of hooks at the tip of the abdomen to grab onto the female’s neck (in damselflies) or head (in dragonflies). The pair then form a circular or heart-shaped position when the female bends her abdomen up and attaches to his secondary genitalia (male dragonflies have two sets). In this position they mate.
Once the eggs are laid the cycle of life begins again, ensuring that future generations will be able to say ‘here be dragons’.