A dragonfly a day- white faced darter

Originally published 10/07/2015.

The white-faced darter, Leucorrhinia dubia, is the dragonfly that sparked my interest in this fascinating group of insects and so it seems only fitting to finish ‘A Dragonfly A Day’ with the insect that inspired it.
Having volunteered on the white-faced darter reintroduction in Delamere Forest, I am one of a lucky few that has spent many hours over the past few months on two English white-faced darter sites and the Delamere translocation site. I have been lucky enough to see this insect in its larval form, during its emergence, in its adult form and during copulation. It is a beautiful dragonfly and luckily, an relatively easy one to identify as a beginner.

The white-faced darter is a specialist dragonfly, choosing to breed in lowland bog pools that contain plenty of submerged moss. It chooses acidic waters as it cannot tolerate fish in its breeding pools.
The white-faced darter is listed on the GB Red List as an endangered species. There are only a few populations left of this Northern species, with its most Southerly point being a population at Chartley Moss in Staffordshire. Its main range is currently in North-West Scotland, where there are a few local populations. As you move down through Scotland into England populations become scarce, with only a handful of populations in England.
Both sexes have a creamy-white frons, dark eyes and black legs. Both sexes also have a mostly black thorax and abdomen. Their wings all have small dark patches at the bases and dark brown wing spots, that have white veins coming away from them- though these are very difficult to see.
Male: the abdomen has red markings on the top of segments 1-7 with the last segments being mostly black. The thorax has red shoulder stripes and two red stripes on each side. There are also some red spots around the wing bases.
Female: the abdomen has yellow markings on the top of segments 1-7, more extensive than in the males. This yellow colouration can darken with age and may even turn reddish. The thorax has yellow shoulder stripes and two yellow stripes on each side. There are also some yellow spots around the wing bases.
The white-faced darter will spend much of its time in scrub or light woodland. Here, as a teneral, it will feed until it matures. As an adult, it chooses this habitat as a basking place. The adults will spend much of their time perched on vegetation and can often be seen on bare, pale objects, such as deadwood or pale ground. Males hold relatively small territories and, though less aggressive than other Darters, will often be seen chasing intruders away.
The white-faced darter has a characteristic bouncing flight, and often chooses to fly low over water. As the name suggests, they will often dart around, returning more often than not to a selected perch.
Similar Species
The black darter, Sympetrum danae, can sometimes be confused with the white-faced darter. The male black darter is unmistakable as it has a mostly black abdomen, with some small yellow markings down the sides. This looks completely different to the red and black male white-faced darter. Immature and female black darters however are very similar to the female white-faced darter, all being black with yellow markings. The best feature to use to distinguish between these individuals is the face, this will be yellow in the black darter and creamy-white in the white-faced darter. The white-faced darter also has dark patches at the base of each wing, whereas the black darter has either clear wings or yellow patches at the base of each wing. Lastly, there will often be much more black on the abdomen in the female white-faced darter. If in doubt, take a photo and ask for help with the identification.

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Rachel Davies

Rachel Davies

Currently studying for an MRes in Wildlife Conservation at the University of Chester. Research focuses on the White-faced Darter, an endangered dragonfly species here in Britain. Rachel also has a blog titled 'working with wildlife'.
Rachel Davies

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