Nature Notes June 2024

Now should be the time of year when dragonflies and damselflies are getting really interesting, but like so many other invertebrates the recent weather has put a real dampener on their activities. We are due to get a spell of warm and sunny weather so perhaps things will pick up soon. However, I have managed to see a few including this female Azure Damselfly dancing around my garden pond. Although these are amongst our commonest damselflies, they rarely put in an appearance at our house. If she finds a mate she will lay her eggs on vegetation around the edge of the pond at or just below the surface of the water.

One that I won’t be seeing around the garden pond is the Beautiful Demoiselle as they are only found around clean, fast flowing streams. It has formerly only been found southern and western Britain, but it has recently begun expanding to the North and East, probably in response to global warming and improved water quality. Sightings in Leicestershire were of vagrants, rather than breeding individuals. However, over the last three or four years, they have been recorded around many streams in the South of the county. I was fortunate to see the male shown here around the River Soar at Fosse Meadows, near to Sharnford. At first sight the wings appear black, but on closer inspection the wings can be seen to have iridescent blue veins – a truly beautiful damsel.

In contrast to the delicate appearance of our damselflies, many of our dragonflies are much larger and robust insects. Damselflies rarely more than 50mm in length, but some of our dragonflies, such as this Southern Hawker, can exceed 75mm in length. This species is seen most years in our garden pond, where they live underwater as a nymph for between one and three years before emerging as an adult. The adults spend much of their time away from water taking insects on the wing up to the size of butterflies. They seek out well-vegetated ponds usually shaded by trees. The females lay their eggs into rotting vegetation, usually above the surface of the water.

Dragonflies and damselflies really are stunning insects, often beautifully coloured and able to fly quickly and with remarkable manoeuvrability. They have been around since the days of the dinosaurs, when some species had wingspans up to one metre. Nothing so grand these days, but our dragonflies are the largest and fastest of the insects you are likely to see locally. Almost any garden pond can maintain a population of damselflies and all of our local ponds, lakes, canals and rivers will likely have many of these charismatic animals.