Introduction to dragonflies

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Dragonflies and damselflies belong to the order Odonata, which means 'toothed jaws', and both young and adult are predators, eating a wide range of aquatic invertebrates and flying insects, respectively. They develop through a process known as incomplete metamorphosis. Females lay their eggs in summer, dropping them into the water or attaching them to vegetation in or near the pond. The eggs of most species hatch out after a few weeks, but some laid in late summer wait out the winter and do not hatch out until the following spring. After hatching the young, commonly known as nymphs, develop under water. All except those that hatched from over-wintering eggs spend at least one winter in the pond and some hawker dragonflies may spend three years.

When their time comes they climb out of the water, either on the stems of emergent plants or up the bank, and within an hour for most species or up to 3 hours for hawkers, they split their skins to emerge as adults. The adults take about a week to mature, then they disperse to find mates and the females look for somewhere to lay their eggs.

Of the dragonflies, hawkers like the emperor dragonfly are the largest and most spectacular, but for sheer beauty nothing can beat the banded demoiselle, the largest of the damselflies, which are much smaller, have a weak, fluttering flight and usually hold their wings closed when at rest.

In between in size are the chasers and darters such as the broad-bodied chaser and the ruddy darter.

© Andy McGeeney

More information

"Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland" by Steve Brooks and Richard Lewington. Website of the British Dragonfly Society"The Dragonflies of Essex" by Ted Benton & John Dobson.