Dragonflies and damselflies

Blue tailed damselfly

The New Forest National Park is home to some of the scarcer and more specialised dragonflies.

With clean streams, more wet bogs than anywhere else in north-west Europe and many ponds, the New Forest is a particularly important place for dragonflies. Acid waters, such as those in the New Forest, have few fish, so the more specialist species of dragonfly and damselfly can breed here. The larval stages live in water and are eaten by fish, so dragonflies do not usually occur in ponds with many fish.

Several species of dragonfly live only on heathlands and the New Forest holds all of the heathland species occurring in southern UK. These are golden-ringed dragonfly, keeled skimmer, black darter, small red damselfly and scarce blue-tailed damselfly.

Dragonflies and damselflies lay their eggs in water and the larvae develop in the water for a few years, where they are ferocious predators: the larger species can even catch and eat sticklebacks. When mature, they crawl up a plant stem out of the water. The skin splits and out crawls the adult. After pumping blood into its wings to expand them, and waiting for them to harden, the adult flies off.

Dragonflies have a number of predators. The most important are fish, which eat the eggs and larvae, and birds, which eat the adults. Sparrows and other small birds will often take the adults as they emerge from the water. However the most specialised dragonfly predator is the hobby. This summer-visiting bird of prey relies on catching dragonflies on the wing when it first arrives back in the UK in May, and certain dragonfly rich areas like Beaulieu Road Heath can attract several of these enigmatic birds.

A brilliant way to help dragonflies and damselflies and see them up close is to have a wildlife pond in your garden.

Here are some details about the males of the rarer species of the New Forest and some of the common species that you are likely to see.

ID tip - Dragonflies are bigger and sturdier than damselflies and they hold their wings out like an aeroplane when landed. Damselflies are not so speedy and have more of a flitty flight. They hold their wings closed along their body or half-open when landed.

Photo credit: Simon Curson

  1. Dragonflies and damselflies (you are here)
  2. Azure damselflies
  3. Beautiful demoiselle
  4. Blue-tailed damselfly
  5. Broad-bodied chasers
  6. Common darter
  7. Emperor dragonfly
  8. Golden-ringed dragonfly
  9. Keeled skimmer
  10. Large red damselfly
  11. Small red damselfly
  12. Southern damselfly
  13. Southern hawker

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