Tips To Make Your Garden Amphibian Friendly11th March 2023
How To Identify The Most Common Species Of Dragonfly In The UK30th March 2023
As we approach spring, you may begin to spot a few dragonflies and damselflies, especially if you are walking near waterways or ponds. They are attractive flying insects who live in a variety of wetland habitats in the UK.
They are both of the same Odonata insect family, and there are 57 species in the UK according to the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT). But how do you know if you are looking at a damsel or dragonfly? They can appear similar at first glance, with long bodies with a double pair of diaphanous (light, delicate and translucent) wings on each side. Here are the key differences.
The dragonfly is generally larger than a damselfly, and hold their wings outwards when at rest. Their eyes are large and prominent, often meeting at the top of the head. Their fore and hind wings are usually a different shape, with the hind wings slightly wider and less tapered than the forewings.
Overall, dragonflies appear larger and chunkier than a damselfly, and fly with more speed and agility. They have a cruising speed of about 10mph and a top speed of up to 25-30mph
The damselfly is usually daintier than the dragonfly, with a longer and narrower body. However, one of the main clues as to which species you are looking at is that the damselfly will hold its wings close to its body when it is at rest. It also has smaller, separated eyes, and both sets of wings are usually the same size and shape.
A damselfly is a less aggressive flyer than a dragonfly, usually fluttering and slower when airborne.
Habitats of dragonflies and damselflies
The various species of dragonflies and damselflies can be found in a variety of wetland habitats throughout the UK. They seek out areas where the water quality is good, because the offspring (known as nymphs) require clear water in order to hunt, the WWT explains.
All British dragonflies need water to develop and it must be available all year around for them to survive in the larval/nymph part of their lifecycle. Water needs sufficient oxygen and must be free from toxic substances, so a clean well maintained and planted pond will provide the ideal habitat. It is best to avoid stocking fish in your pond if you want to encourage dragonflies as they will eat the larvae.
They mate during the summer season with a peculiar courting ritual, culminating in a wheel-like coupling, which can take place in the air or on vegetation. The eggs are deposited into the water or onto submerged aquatic plants.
The larval or nymph stage of the dragonflies’ lifecycle typically lasts 1-2 years, though ranges from 2-3 month up to 5 years. During this time the larvae feed on live prey in the pond, and moult a total of 5-14 times until fully grown and ready for their final metamorphosis into an adult. About half of them will survive to become fully fledged flying insects, climbing out of the water via an emergent plant.
The unique characteristics of dragonflies and damselflies
The Odonata insect family can be traced back to prehistoric times, when it is thought that dragonflies the size of eagles flew in the sky. They have retained some of the extraordinary strength and flexibility of their wings, which allows the dragonfly to hover, turn in a millisecond, and fly backwards.
There are 57 species of Odonata in the UK, and many of them have colourful and distinctive markings. One of the most recognisable is the Emperor dragonfly, which has a beautiful blue-green colouring with a black stripe along the length of the body. They inhabit still water bodies, such as ponds, lakes, canals, and ditches.
The Large red damselfly is a common species that also prefers still water. The males have bright red bodies with black bands, and the females have a variable amount of red and black colouring.
The best pond plants for dragonflies and damselflies
Any plants that have leaves that float on the surface of the pond like Water lilies, Amphibious bistort and Water hawthorn provide these insects with landing pads from which to lay their eggs either on them or in the water. Marginal plants with strong emergent stems such as Yellow flag iris, Branched bur reed , Water plantain or Narrow reedmace are ideal for the nymphs to escape the pond for their final moult. They also favour Water soldiers and Bog bean. In addition, plants that attract pollinators and other flying insects will provide them with plenty of food, and a good selection of submerged oxygenators provides habitat for the nymphs both to hide from predators and hunt for prey.
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