National Dragonfly Week 2015

Originally published 28 June 2015.

This year National Dragonfly Week will run from 4th to 12th July and what a week it’s set to be! With many dragonflies and damselflies on the wing during July there will be plenty to see, especially the fabulous colour variations and impressive flight displays that come hand in hand with these insects. To help get you started during National Dragonfly Week, I have put together a few handy tips in dragonfly and damselfly spotting.

First of all, we need to be in the right habitat for these insects. As both of these insects spend their larval stage in water and lay their eggs in water or on emergent vegetation, water-based habitats are important. Dragonflies and damselflies will inhabitat many different water-based habitats, including ponds, streams, rivers, canals and bogs. If you are interested in a specific species, check which habitat your species favours first, as many dragonflies and damselflies show clear habitat preferences.

Secondly, these insects require heat in order to fly. Some, mainly the larger hawkers, are able to heat their flight muscles by vibrating their wings. Others, including most smaller dragonflies and all damselflies, warm up their flight muscles using direct heat from the sun, or ground heat. Therefore, if it is a terribly cold day, you’ll have a very slim chance of seeing them. However, if it is a terribly hot day, you may struggle to identify them as they will be flying very quickly. Therefore, the best weather for dragonfly spotting is usually a warm to mild day, with some cloud. On these days, the dragons and damsels will need to perch regularly to warm up, giving you a chance to get a better look.

Thirdly, you need to be looking in the right place. Different dragonflies and damselflies have different behaviours and so will fly in different areas. But in general, looking around the edges of the water, checking the vegetation, is a good starting point. Looking out over the water for individuals flying can give fantastic views. Dragonflies are very territorial and you will often see males fighting over a territory when looking out over the open water. At these times, you will sometimes hear a small crackle as the dragonflies collide with each other.

Lastly, once you have found your insects, it makes them much easier to identify if you know which you are looking at: a dragonfly or a damselfly. It is fairly easy to tell the two apart. Damselflies are smaller, are quite dainty and are weaker flyers. Their wings are usually all the same size and at rest they close their wings against their body. Dragonflies are bigger, more robust and are strong flyers. Their front wings are often a different shape to their hind wings and at rest they hold their wings out at a right angle. If you get a closer look, damselflies eyes are separated, whilst dragonflies eyes are closer together and usually touch in the middle.

Once you know which you are looking at, the next step is to try and identify the species. This can be very difficult in both dragonflies and damselflies and a good ID guide will be very useful at this stage. If you are unable to identify an individual, try taking a photo and posting it online- there will always be someone willing to share their knowledge and it can be a great way to learn. Hopefully with these quick tips you’ll have a great time when you next go out spotting dragons and damsels. And don’t forget to get stuck in and celebrate National Dragonfly Week this year. With events taking place all over the UK, you can get involved in a variety of ways. Why not join a guided walk, attend a talk or take the family to one of many dragonfly craft events? You can find a list of some of these at: http://www.british-dragonflies.org.uk/content/upcoming-events. This year will be my first National Dragonfly Week and to celebrate I will be doing a series of articles during the week called A Dragonfly A Day, so stay tuned!

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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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