Visit a local pond or river this month and you’re bound to see some of our 30 species of dragonfly. These fantastically aerobatic insects have spent the previous weeks, months or even years (depending on the species) as rather hideous-looking aquatic larvae, slaughtering tadpoles and other pond life as they develop in the murky depths.
On a warm, dry day, sit by a pond and be patient. You might be lucky enough to spot one of these nymphs emerge from the water and clamber up the stem of a reed or iris. In a moment of Alien-like horror, the monster’s skin splits and a completely different-looking animal emerges from within: the winged adult.
The new insect has to pump fluid into its flaccid, crumpled wings, which quickly harden into the more familiar lacy blades. Meanwhile, its body takes on deeper coloration – rich azures, reds, yellows or greens, depending on the species. Within an hour of leaving the water, the adult takes to the air for the first time.
A powerful flyer, the dragonfly doesn’t amble like a bee or weave like a butterfly. It patrols with a bold, direct flight; suddenly hovering with great precision like a Harrier Jump Jet and then darting to catch and then eat a fly in midair.
Our largest dragonflies are the emperors, 8cm (3in)-long insects whose huge wings audibly clatter when in flight. You often see these giants some distance from water, hunting prey in woodland rides and over heaths.
True dragonflies hold their wings flat at right angles to their bodies. This should enable you to distinguish them from the smaller and more delicate damselflies, which hold their wings vertically along the length of their bodies. Damselflies are, if anything, even more beautifully and brightly coloured than their dragonfly relatives.
To find out more, visit the British Dragonfly Society website at www.dragonflysoc.org.uk.
Image credits: Jef Meul/FN/Minden/FLPA
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