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Dragonflies are a familiar sight in the summertime, especially if you are lucky enough to have a garden pond. They favour wetland habitats as their offspring develop in water, although the exact conditions they prefer vary between the species. Here’s a look at how to identify the most common species in the UK.
There are 57 species of dragonfly and damselfly (similar to dragonflies with a few key differences) that are found in the UK. Some species prefer different habitats and different climates, so it’s worth checking the British Dragonfly Society website to see which species are most prevalent in your area.
It’s also important to note that young adult species (known as tenerals) are usually much paler in colour and may not have developed into their full markings. There are usually some differences between males and females of the same species as well.
Finally, species are active at different times of the year so this can help if you are unsure about the identification. Here are the key characteristics of some of the most common dragonfly species in the UK.
The emperor dragonfly is one of the largest and most colourful of the species. It prefers still water bodies such as ponds, lakes, and flooded gravel pits. The male grows up to 7.8cm long and is a blue with a blue-green throat, and a black stripe with horizontal markings running along the length of its back. Females are similar but slightly duller in colour.
They are most prevalent during the mating season between June and August, and are most commonly seen in central and southern England and south Wales. The female lays her eggs on floating pondweed in garden ponds, ditches, lakes, and canals. It is especially agile in the air, flying high and eating insect prey whilst in flight.
The Brown hawker is a large dragonfly that can be spotted in most areas of England, and some parts of Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. They are large, growing to 7.3cm in length and are extremely capable in the air, able to hover, fly backwards, and are aggressive hunters who can catch insect prey on the wing.
As the name suggests, the Hawker is mid-brown in colour with amber wings. It also has paired yellow stripes on the side of the thorax and the male has small blue markings on its body. It’s often seen in marshes, lakes, and other well-vegetated areas of water, although it is a strong flyer and may hunt in woodland areas and hedgerows.
This is a smaller dragonfly of up to 4.3cm in length that prefers garden ponds to larger lakes and canals. It is seen in most areas of the UK between April and October or even November. The male has an orange-red body, while the females are a dull yellow colour that may become more reddish with age.
It is characterised by a quick forward darting movement from a hovering position to catch its prey, and may perch with its tail in the air and its wings angled to catch the sun.
Golden ringed dragonfly
This is one of the largest dragonfly species in the UK, growing to between 7.4cm and 8.4cm in length. It is also one of the most powerful flyers and aggressive predators, able to catch and eat larger insects such as beetles, wasps, bumblebees, and even other dragonflies and damselflies.
In appearance, they have distinctive black bodies with bright yellow bands and grass-green eyes. Males and females are similar in colour although the females tend to be longer and narrower. They are most often seen between May and September and favour acidic streams and heathland habitats.
As its name suggests, this species of dragonfly has a broader body than most other species. It typically grows to lengths of between 3.9cm and 4.8cm. The male is a pastel blue colour with yellow spots along the edge of its body and a black and amber thorax with brown eyes. The female is a greenish brown colour.
It is mainly spotted around ponds and smaller lakes between May and August, and it is most common in central and southern England and south Wales.
This dragonfly is so called because of the two dark spots on the edge of each wing, one near the tip and one near the centre. It is a mid-sized and fairly broad dragonfly with an amber coloured body that becomes browner towards the end. Both males and females are similar in appearance.
They are active between May and September, favouring ponds, woodland lakes, and heathlands. The four-spotted chaser is a frequent hunter and sometimes they will form swarms over water. You may see this species in all areas of the UK.
The southern hawker is active from July to September in most areas of England and Wales, and it is increasingly seen in Scotland as well. It favours garden ponds and lowland lakes, and is also spotted near canals and woodland. Like other hawker species, it is a fast and able flyer and wil clover large distances in pursuit of prey.
Southern hawkers grow to lengths of up to 7 cm. It has a black body and the male has lime green spots along its back, with pale blue bands around the abdomen and green patches on the thorax. The female is paler in colour and has pale green spots with brown eyes.
The hairy dragonfly is a small species of hawker that grows to a length of about 5.5cm. It has a black body and has blue dots along the length of its back, and blue eyes. The female has yellow spots and brown eyes. They are so-called because the thorax is unusually hairy upon closer inspection.
They can be seen around marshlands, lakes, and canals between May and July, and are most common in south and eastern areas of England.
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