How to spot dragonflies and damselflies during the summer

The male emperor dragonfly (c) Tony Pioli

The male emperor dragonfly (c) Tony Pioli - Credit: Tony Pioli

One of nature’s true survivers, dragonflies and damselflies will again adorn our landscapes this summer - and they are well worth seeking out.

The banded demoiselle (c) M. Drakelow

The banded demoiselle (c) M. Drakelow - Credit: M. Drakelow

This summer, dragonflies with their smaller cousins - the damselflies – will zip and zoom through our countryside and gardens in search of water.

These distinctive, intriguing creatures are easy to spot and bring flashes of colour as our wildflowers fade. Dragonflies hold their wings at right angles to their bodies while damselflies usually fold them over their backs. Like many species, the females tend to be much duller in colour than the showy males. Some males fly continuously over the water while others perch on bankside plants or twigs, allowing closer inspection.

An ancient group of distinctive insects - found droning over tropical lands well before the first dinosaurs - their unique features, including vein patterns in their wings, have barely changed in 300 million years. Two of the oldest dragonfly fossils in the world were found in a coal mine in Bolsover in 1978, which revealed ancestors of our modern dragonflies were much bigger, with wingspans of up to 50 centimetres.

Adult dragonflies and damselflies are on the wing for relatively short periods in summer. Fearsome predators, they hunt smaller insects. Their sole purpose is to mate and lay eggs in the water, which hatch within a week or two into tiny larvae or nymphs. These drop to the bottom of the water where they grow into fierce carnivores, feeding on tadpoles and small creatures. In turn, nymphs try to avoid being a frog or toad’s next meal.

The four spot chaser (c) Dave Clay

The four spot chaser (c) Dave Clay - Credit: Dave Clay

In bigger dragonflies growth may take three years, while small damselflies complete their development in a single year. Dragonfly nymph then crawl out to find a secure place among the vegetation to transform over the next three hours – one hour for damselflies - into the winged wonders we can easily see.

There are 17 species of damselfly and 23 species of dragonfly in the UK, with several found throughout Derbyshire, and their names give a clue to their appearance. Among the damselflies, look out for the large red, blue tailed, azure, emerald, red eyed, small red eyed plus the delicate and beautifully named banded demoiselle.

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Dragonflies include the broad bodied and four spot chasers, black tailed skimmer, emperor and southern, migrant, common and brown hawkers, common, black and ruddy darters and the gold ringed dragonfly. The hairy dragonfly is a newcomer to the county, arriving in recent years as populations have moved north with a changing climate.

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust has a number of reserves with ponds and lakes where you can strike out on a quest for these glorious creatures. They include Carr Vale near Bolsover, Willington Wetlands close to the River Trent, Cromford Canal, Oakerthorpe near Alfreton and Mapperley Wood near Shipley.

More information - and the latest on access and safety - can be found at

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