The ‘Dragons’ Awake
Martin Roberts, Dragonfly Correspondent
Spring has finally arrived in Yorkshire and something is stirring in our ponds and streams. Not just the frogs and tadpoles; the Damselflies and Dragonflies have started to emerge. Having spent the last year or two feeding and growing underwater, the larvae will soon break through the water surface and climb up a plant stem. Once there they will clamp themselves tightly to the stem and within a matter of minutes the back of the larva will split open and the adult insect will wriggle free.
At first the adult will be a pale, almost colourless, imitation of its mature self. It will need to pump up its wings and allow its skin to toughen-up enough for it to fly. After a couple of hours it will have gained some colour and be ready to take its maiden flight, which is usually a very short flight away from the pond or stream into the shelter of some nearby vegetation. For the next few weeks it will avoid the water as it matures and feeds on smaller insects caught in flight. Once mature it will return to the waterside to find a mate and lay eggs, beginning the cycle over again. Compared to the spectacular flying skills of the true Dragonflies, Damselflies tend to flitter about close to the bankside vegetation, hovering and landing frequently, but it is this flying stage which keeps Dragonfly enthusiasts transfixed for hours at a time.
Damselflies tend to emerge earlier than Dragonflies and the very first species to emerge in spring is usually the Large Red Damselfly. There was a picture of one in my previous article (11th February). Next to appear are three blue species of Damselfly: Azure, Common Blue and Blue-tailed.
The Blue-tailed is easy to spot, usually having a blue, but occasionally green or pinkish front end (the head and thorax), and a mostly black abdomen with a conspicuous blue ‘tail-light’ right at the rear end.
The other two blue species look much bluer overall, with blue makings all along the abdomen. They can seem very similar at first glance, but with a little experience can be easily distinguished. There are two things to look for.
Firstly, behind the head but in front of where the wings are attached, you will see some blue and black stripes. If the top blue stripes are wider than the black stripes this indicates it is a Common Blue Damselfly. If the blue stripes are narrower than the black stripes, this indicates it is an Azure Damselfly.
Secondly, just behind where the wings are attached, if you can see a round black shape looking a bit like a ‘ball on a stick’, this indicates it is a Common Blue Damselfly, but if the black mark is ‘U’ or ‘H’ shaped, this indicates it is an Azure Damselfly.
If you study the pictures, you should be able to see the differences quite clearly.
These differences apply to the males only; females will have different markings behind the wings but identifying the males will do for now. Also, there are other blue damselflies in the UK but these three are the species you are most likely to encounter in Yorkshire. Go on, find a pond and give it a try! Good Luck!
As we get towards the end of May, the true Dragonflies should start to appear and I will introduce you to the first of these truly spectacular insects in my next article.
If this article has given you an interest in Dragonflies and Damselflies, please visit the website of the Yorkshire Dragonfly Group (www.yorkshiredragonflies.org.uk).
There you will find loads of information and pictures to help you identify what you see.
The Yorkshire Dragonfly Group organises a number of field trips during the Summer, and anyone with an interest in these fascinating insects is welcome to join.
The ‘Dragons’ Awake, 19th April 2019, 16:37 PM