Dragonflies/Damselflies

(Order: Odonata)



Blue-tailed Damselfly (top row 'normal' mating pattern, second row three damselflies trying to mate, third row male on the left,  female infuscans-obsoleta form on the right, bottom row female immature 'rufescens' form) (Ischnura elegans) (Rouken Glen Park, South West Glasgow)

Damselflies are fairly easy to tell apart from dragonflies in the UK.  Damselflies have narrow twig-like abdomens and hold their wings together above their abdomens when at rest (except the emerald damselfly which holds them at 45º - see below). Dragonflies on the other hand, have much broader abdomens and hold their wings out at right angles to their bodies when at rest. They can often be spotted beside still or slow moving water with surrounding reeds. The male of this species of damselfly has a blue ring around its 'tail' (hence its name) and the female comes in a number of different colours or forms. The immature female at the bottom with the blue ring around its 'tail' and pink thorax is the 'rufescens' form. The brown thorax and brown ring in the female on the right of the third row is the infuscans-obsoleta form. The photo at the top shows the 'usual' copulation wheel damselflies display whilst mating. However the two photos on the second row appear to demonstrate the less familiar, but far more fun, menage a trois formation. I have no idea what one of the males is getting out of all of this - he's just grasping the other male's 'neck' - and doesn't appear to be getting anything back in return. Perhaps he's just enjoying grasping another male for the sake of it - who knows? By the way the two middle photos are of the same three damselflies. By the second photo, they'd rearranged themselves into a more orderly fashion, for what it's worth. I would be interested to know if anyone has come across this sort of behaviour in damselflies before.







Teneral Blue-tailed Damselfly (female)(Ischnura elegans) (Brighouse Bay Holiday Park, Kirkcudbright)

Teneral means that the damselfly has just newly emerged from the water as an adult.  It is rather anaemic looking and doesn’t have the full colouration of the mature adult as yet.








Common Blue Damselfly (male)(Enallagma cyathigerum) (Loch of Lowes, Dunkeld)

The females of this species are a much duller green or brown (see photos below).  The males are blue and black as are a number of other species. It can be distinguished from other similar species by a ‘black ball on a stalk’ which can be seen on the second segment.  Hopefully I’ll get a better photo at some point which will actually show this better, but you may be able to just about make it out in these photos. The males can be territorial and quite aggressive towards other males.  They’re also not generally keen on having their photo taken and have a habit of making sure they’re just out of camera shot.







Common Blue Damselfly (female)(Enallagma cyathigerum) (Rouken Glen Park, South West Glasgow)

These poor old gals are probably suffering from an identity crisis. Being called ‘common’ is one thing, but ‘blue’ must really make them wonder.  It’s a man’s world out there all right.




Common Blue Damselfly (female blue form)(Enallagma cyathigerum) (Knowetop Lochs Nature Reserve, Dumfries & Galloway)

The wolf in sheep's clothing of the damselfly world! At first I thought these were variable damselflies because they didn't seem to match any of the 'usual' damselfly species, but then I discovered they are in fact the female 'blue form' of the common blue damselfly. Its abdomen is mainly black with narrow blue stripes and a distinctive patters on the 2nd segment which is difficult to describe but can be seen here. There is also a green form female damselfly just to confuse matters further. 






Northern Damselfly (male)(Coenagrion hastulatum) (Abernethy Nature Reserve, near Loch Garten)

A truly Scottish only species!! And a very rare species at that, found in only a few lochans in Scotland and let's just say my being in Abernethy Nature Reserve wasn't exactly a complete  happy coincidence. And like the white-faced dragonfly (below), I had travelled hundreds of miles just to see a little blue damselfly with two narrow black lines on the thorax (called spurs), a small black 'dash' on the top of the abdomen (as in the left-hand photo) and a black 'spear' shape on  the second segment (as in the photo on the right), rather than the blob on a stalk of the common blue damselfly (see photos of males above). In addition, the bottom half of the eyes are green and the bottom two segments of its abdomen are all blue apart from two small black dots on the final segment (which you can just see in the photo on the right). Not blindingly obvious differences between the Northern and the common blue, I admit, particularly from the distance I was at, but wonderful to capture such a rare and local beauty nonetheless. A glorious moment  and one I will never forget.









Azure Blue Damselfly (male) (Coenagrion puella) (Rouken Glen Park, South West Glasgow)

Whilst these look like the male Common Blue damselfly above, you can see that the second segment of the male abdomen has a distinctive square 'U' shape (or at least you can just about see half the 'U' shape in the photograph on the top left) with a black stripe underneath it. There are a number of similar blue damselflies which can be distinguished by the pattern on the second segment. It has taken me a long time to get half decent photos of these damselflies. There usually don't rest very much and when they do it's usually only fleetingly.  It is normally so frustrating that having these ones sit relatively still was an unexpected treat. 




Azure Blue Damselfly (female) (Coenagrion puella) (Baron Haugh, Motherwell)

The female is a lot darker with a mainly black abdomen with some thin blue stripes and has white stripes on the pronotum. The second segment doesn't have the square 'U' of the male, but her own distinctive pattern. The thorax of the female also has a black spur  marking on its 'side' which the female common blue damselfly doesn't have.





 Emerald Damselfly (males on the top, all others female)(Lestes sponsa) (Argyll Caravan Park, Argyll and Glen Affric, Highlands)

Taking photos of the female was one of the highlights of this whole process – I don’t know who was more interested in who. It just sat there staring at me, happy for me to photograph its beautiful metallic glistening emerald body from all angles. It also demonstrates the unusual 45º angle at which this species holds its wings at rest. Whilst both sexes have a metallic green body, the male is fairly distinctive from females - having a powder blue colour at either end of its abdomen and between the wings. The males also seem to be more nervous and less willing to be approached.






Large Red Damselfly (male middle left and mating, bottom photo teneral hiding) (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)(Argyll Caravan Park, Argyll) 

The Large Red Damselfly always has black legs unlike the Small Red Damselfly which has red legs. Its name is rather deceptive as this is still a rather small damselfly, at only about 25 - 29 mm, and is only slightly larger than the Small Red Damselfly. The distinction between the red and copper markings between the males and the females can be seen from the photo at the top with the female having more black markings on its abdomen. It is one of the earliest damselflies to appear and in fact this one was found in Argyll in early May - which shows just how hardy it is! Unusually for damselflies, both the larvae and the adults of this species are territorial. When Large Red Damselflies mate, they make this rather attractive heart shape as the male clasps onto the female's 'neck'. It is known as the copulation wheel and the pair of them can fly whilst maintaining this position. Often you see the male continue to clasp her neck and take her back to the pond to ensure she dips her abdomen in the water to lay her eggs. I have to (rather reluctantly!) give the credit to my husband for the close up photo which was taken by adding an additional macro lens to his camera. If you expand the photo you can clearly see its ommatidia which make up its large and colourful compound eyes and its black pseudopupils - the area from which it has the best vision. The bottom photo shows a teneral large red damselfly hiding from me behind a blade of grass. I'm convinced it thinks I can't see it - cute!








Golden-ringed Dragonfly (all males other than female at the bottom) (Cordulegaster boltonii) (Knowetop Lochs Nature Reserve, Dumfries & Galloway and Glencoe Visitors Centre, Glencoe)

Sad but true, I purposely went to Knowetop Lochs Nature Reserve in June because of the huge number of species of dragonflies and damselflies it boasts. And I wasn't disappointed. The place was hoaching with various damselflies. There were also four-spotted dragonflies, but they didn't rest long enough for me to get a photo of them. I did however spot this beautiful creature which almost took by breath away. It is a large beast and very distinctive with its black body, yellow rings and stunning green eyes. It apparently has one of the longest insect bodies in Europe. The top photos are male because the female (as in the photo at the bottom) has a prominent dagger like ovipositor at the tip of her abdomen which she uses to lay eggs at the bottom of rivers. These dragonflies are very easy to approach and entirely unperturbed by my taking close up photos of them.







White-faced Darter (male) (Lencorchinia dubia) (Abernethy Nature Reserve, near Loch Garten)

Ok, confession time. You know you're got a serious addiction problem when you travel hundreds of miles for no other reason than to see a white-faced darter. But, as you can see, it was well worth it! And it's not your typical large, brightly coloured dragonfly at all. By dragonfly standards, this is fairly tiny. In some ways, it's more like a robust damselfly than a dragonfly. And it's quite dark in flight. Only when it lands do you see the beautiful reds and oranges and of course, the unmistakable white 'face'. Also, whilst most dragonflies are happy to sit and have their photos taken, these ones were not. As soon as you move a muscle, they're off. So I had to use a long-distance zoom to get these shots, rather than my usual macro lens, which is why unfortunately, these aren't as sharp as I'd have liked them. The females also have white faces but are yellow where the males are red. These darter are found in shallow boggy pools. This is a rare species and can only be found in a few places in Surrey, the Midlands and of course Scotland!








 Black Darter (male)(Sympetrum danae) (Argyll Caravan Park, Argyll)

Dragonflies are normally very colourful creatures, but not all of them are, as you can see here. It’s still stunningly beautiful with its black velvety abdomen with some yellow-golden patches. The top of the abdomen is distinctively swollen. The female looks rather different as you can see in the photos below. If you look carefully, you can see the position of the ‘pterostigmas’, the black ‘filled-in’ sections near the tip of each of the four wings, as can be seen on all dragonflies. This species is less territorial than many other species of dragonfly and they can live together in abundance at the one site.







 Black Darter (female)(Sympetrum danae) (Argyll Caravan Park, Argyll)

The female has an orange and black abdomen and yellow and black thorax, but both males and females have black legs. There is a yellowing ‘nicotine stain’ at the base of the wings. The highly effective and lethal spiked legs for catching prey mid-air are clearly visible. Dragonflies have incredible iridescent compound eyes. The black spot in the middle of each eye is known as the ‘pseudopupil’ and is the part out of which the insect can see best. There are websites devoted to ‘the world’s best photos of pseudopupils’.  Always worth a look for the wow factor if nothing else.










 
Common Darter (male)(Sympetrum striolatum) (Brighouse Bay Holiday Park, Kirkcudbright)

This dragonfly teased me for a while hovering right in front of me - I was sure it was never going to land. But luckily it did rest for a short time enabling me to catch a photo of this beautiful creature.  It is very small for a dragonfly and in fact I briefly wondered whether it was a damselfly.  However, it was definitely too 'chunky' to be a damselfly and when it rested, it held its wings at right angles to its body confirming it must be a dragonfly. It also flew off at a tremendous speed, confirming the identification further. The male, as here, has a striking red and orange abdomen with some black horizontal markings at the end of each segment. Females are more yellowish brown. The legs of this species are striped black and yellow, which distinguishes it from the very similar Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) which has all black legs and can only be found in the south of England and Ireland.








 Common Hawker (male top three photos, female bottom three photos)(Aeshna juncea) (Argyll Caravan Park, Argyll, Auchenrannie, Arran and Glen Affric, Highlands)

A pair of these common hawkers were flying round and round the nearby pond at unimaginably fast speeds and whizzing past our ears so that we could hear the extraordinarily loud beating of their wings. The male at the top landed on my husband’s trouser leg. ‘Hawkers’, such as these, fly like hawks spending a lot of time in the air and catching prey in mid air with their spiky legs. The dragonfly at the top has a damaged wing which is a common sight, the damage being caused by the males fighting over preferred territory. The abdominal spots are blue in the male and green or yellow in the female and the male has two yellow stripes on its thorax, which are absent in the female. As can be seen from the photos as the bottom, the female is a deep brown colour with brown eyes, whereas the male has blue eyes. The 'costa' (i.e. the front lines of the wings) are yellow in both the males and the females, although it is easiest to see in the middle photo of the female. The female in the bottom photos is laying eggs beneath the water where the larvae will live until they come out of the water and become adults. I watched as the female would lay some eggs, move on to another plant within the pond and lay some more - it really was a spectacular sight. The Common Hawker is similar to, but distinguishable from the Southern Hawker (see below).







Southern Hawker (male top three, female bottom three) (Aeshna cyanea) (Argyll Caravan Park, Argyll) 

Couldn't believe it - early October and there are dozens of dragonflies buzzing around the pond - and with the noise their wings make, it does almost sound like they're buzzing. Whilst most of the dragonflies were fluttering around in pairs, these large male and female ones were on their own (on different days) and kept flying right in front of my husband and I, literally inches from us. And then they landed on the grass right beside us and were very happy to be photographed from all angles. I'm not sure who was more fascinated in whom. But this species of dragonfly is stunning and whilst common in England, it is fairly rare in Scotland. It looks very like the Common Hawker above, but it can be distinguished from the Common Hawker by its two broad yellow-green bands on its thorax (the bit behind its head) and the fact that the 'dots' on the last two segments nearest the tip of its abdomen are joined into stripes. The Common Hawker, on the other hand, has two narrow bands on its thorax and it has pairs of dots all the way down. The male Southern Hawker (as this one in the top three photos) is black with green dots all the way down until the final three segments which are then blue. The female on the other hand is a dark brown with all green dots and 'stripes'. These are simply stunning - there's no other word for it.







Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata)(Mabie Forest Nature Reserve, Dumfries & Galloway)

I had to use a different technique from usual for capturing this dragonfly on my camera. Usually, I try and get within millimetres of my subject, but although I have found quite a number of Four-spotted Chasers in my time, they always seemed to dart around at a great rate of knots and never seemed to come to rest on the ground.  I had almost given up hope of ever getting a photo of one of these. There was, however, a small purpose built pier at this nature reserve to observe the wildlife. These chasers would regularly rest on the reeds within the water for a few moments before darting off, so I extended the telephoto lens to its maximum and rested my camera on the rope fence so that any shake was reduced. It was tricky to find and focus on the dragonfly, but once I had it in my viewfinder, I was able to get some shots of it. I was pleased with the result considering how far away it was. Although  the photo is not as zoomed in or as sharp as I would like it, the main features can still be clearly seen - with its golden abdomen tapering to black and the two dark spots on each wing (making a total of 8 spot?!). It also has a black-brown triangular patch at the base of the lower two wings with yellow viens.








Nymphal Skin of a Dragonfly (left) and Damselfly (right) (Argyll Caravan Park, Argyll)

The aquatic dragonfly or damselfly nymph crawls out of the water and climbs onto nearby vegetation where it emerges from its nymphal skin as a winged adult. The technical name for the exoskeleton that has been left behind is the 'exuvium'. The nymph breathes through holes on the body which are attached to a network of narrow tubes which carry oxygen around the body into its cells. This is known as the tracheal system and the white strings you can see dangling out of the dragonfly's 'back' are part of this tracheal system.