If you think insects are boring, think again!

Male Banded Demosielle

Male Banded Demosielle - Credit: Archant

Andrew Fallan shares his expertise in Essex wildlife with us, revealing top locations to find special species as well as the usual animals you can find in your own back garden

Regular readers will remember that in last month’s Essex Life I wrote about one of our most delightful creatures, the butterfly. Us humans are generally quite enamoured with butterflies: few can fail to be impressed by their striking colours and elaborate adornment, while the association of these winged beauties with spring blooms and summer sunshine only adds to their appeal.

But aren’t insects, on the whole, quite boring? We all like to have brightly-coloured butterflies and buzzing bees in our garden, but unless we happen to be a budding entomologist or nature geek, this is usually about as far as our enthusiasm goes.

There is, however, one group of insects that, in terms of their stunning beauty and sheer, unbridled magnetism, can make even the most beautiful butterfly seem somewhat run-of-the-mill. And in order to see these captivating creatures for yourself, all you need to do is visit any decent pond, lake, river or stream during the summer months.

Dragonflies and damselflies are truly amazing. Quite apart from being almost indescribably exquisite, like shiny little jewels with wings of the finest lace, these keen-eyed predators demonstrate breathtaking powers of flight and manoeuvrability, eclipsing that of even our most sophisticated high-tech flying machines. For example, as well as reaching speeds of up to 30mph, dragonflies are able to hover and fly in any direction, including backwards.

Having outlived the dinosaurs, dragonflies and damselflies also have a fascinating evolutionary history stretching back some 300 million years, when their giant ancestors possessed a whopping one-metre wingspan.

The principal difference between dragonflies and damselflies is that, when at rest, the former hold their wings out from the body at right angles, whereas the latter typically hold their wings along the body. In addition to this, dragonflies are generally larger, more robust and stronger-flyers than the more delicate damselflies. For beginners, it can seem that there is a confusing array of different species to contend with and it’s tempting to let this put you off altogether.

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However, there are two species — one a dragonfly, the other a damselfly — that are sufficient to get you started, both of which also happen to be incredibly beautiful.

With its bold combination of apple-green and azure-blue, the emperor dragonfly is unmistakable. Go to any decent-sized, well-vegetated pond and you’ll stand a good chance of seeing this, the UK’s largest dragonfly, as it aggressively patrols its territory like a military attack-helicopter.

In contrast, the wonderfully-named banded demoiselle, which favours rivers and streams, is both a picture of elegance and perhaps our most iconic damselfly. With their dark-banded wings and shimmering, metallic blue-green bodies, the males in particular are devastatingly handsome, making for quite a sight as they flutter over the water’s surface with eminent grace.

So, next time you’re taking a stroll by the river or even feeding the ducks at your local pond, keep an eye out for bold and beautiful dragonflies and dainty damselflies. Like me, you might just find that you are quite taken with these remarkable insects.