Dragonflies and damselflies

Dragonflies belong to the insect order called Odonata. They are amongst the most distinctive of insects, with large eyes, two pairs of wings and are often brightly coloured. The group is often divided into two – the true dragonflies and the daintier damselflies. Damselflies are small, delicate insects with a very slim body. They have a relatively weak flight and their eyes are always separated – never touching. At rest, the forewings of most species are held along the body. True dragonflies are larger, more robust insects. They have a larger body and strong flight. Their large compound eyes meet in the middle. At rest their wings are usually held at 90 degrees to their body.

Over 20 species of dragonfly have been recorded in Dumfries and Galloway, although only 15 or so of these are known to regularly breed in the region. Most are widespread, occurring on lochs and ponds throughout the region. These include the Emerald Damselfly Lestes sponsa, Azure Damselfly Coenagrion puella, which is apparently absent from the far west with no records on the Rhins of Galloway, and Common Hawker Aeshna juncea, with its highest breeding sites including Carrifan ponds in the Moffat Hills and Cairnsmore of Fleet. The Southern Hawker Aeshna cyanea and Migrant Hawker Aeshna mixta are two recently colonised species that have also bred in recent years. Other species are extending their ranges and may colonise Dumfries and Galloway in the near future.

There are three priority species of dragonfly identified in the Dumfries and Galloway Local Biodiversity Action Plan. The Hairy Dragonfly Brachytron pratense is absent from most of Scotland, but has several populations in the region. Around 10 years ago they were known from only four sites within 2km of the Kirkcudbrightshire coast (Carrick Ponds, Colvend Lochs, Palnackie Loch and Killiegowan Wood). Recording since that time recent years has found several other sites where the species breeds, and it is now recorded from at least eight different 10km squares.  They breed in mesotrophic ponds, lakes, canals, ditches and fens, where there is tall emergent vegetation, such as Common Club Rush Schoenoplectus lacustris. It is usually the earliest large dragonfly to emerge, so any sightings of large dragonflies in May should be reported.

The Azure Hawker Aeshna caerulea, was first discovered in Dumfries and Galloway in the late 1940s, the only population outside the Highlands of Scotland. It is a boreal/montane species with an isolated population in Galloway, its main breeding site being at Silver Flowe NNR. There it can be found in areas with a mosaic of small ponds carrying rafts of Sphagnum or other aquatic moss with adjacent moorland. Recent searches suggest it is barely clinging on here at its most southerly location in the UK.

The Variable Damselfly Coenagrion pulchellum is a one of three similar-looking blue damselflies. It is absent from the majority of Scotland, but can be found at low altitude across Dumfries and Galloway where it has been recorded from over 20 different  10km squares.  Occurring close to still or slow-flowing water, such as ponds and ditches, it can be seen flying among the fringing vegetation and protective bushes that are present. It can be easy to confuse with the commoner species so care is required in identification.

Useful reference information:

Dragonflies and Damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland by Steve Brooks & Steve Cham. ISBN  095649028X.

Britain’s Dragonflies: A Field Guide to the Damselflies and Dragonflies of Britain and Ireland by Dave Smallshire & Andy Swash . ISBN  0691161232.

British Dragonfly Society

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