Even the smallest pond can support dragonflies and damselflies, allowing anyone to experience the magical transformation of ungainly aquatic nymph to beautiful aeronautic adult dragonfly.
Nymphs start crawling up emergent stems at night, their backs split open and the shrivelled dragonfly heaves out. It takes several hours to expand the wings and dry them to an aerobatic crispness, so early morning is a good time to go spotting. Here’s how to improve your pond if you already have one.
Some dragonfly and damselfly species use a perch stem from which to dart out catching prey (mostly small flies) and see off competitors. Large hawkers fly many kilometres from water, and make a regular patrol up and down a hedgerow or fence line, their large wings brushing together to produce a clearly audible rattle as they pass.
Get help with spotting your garden wildlife, in our dragonfly and damselfly identifier.
Azure damselfly (Coenagrion puella)
Length 30-35mm. The male abdomen is a variegated deep, bright blue and black, the thorax is streaked blue on sides. The female abdomen is mostly black above, with thin greenish rings. Large numbers patrol just above and among pond-side herbage.
Common blue damselfly (Enallagma cynathigerum)
Length 30-34mm. The male is powder blue, the female usually green-marked, but some are blue- or yellow-patterned. It’s a stronger flier than other damsels, venturing further out over open water.
Large red damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)
Length 34-38mm. Black, with broad red stripes on the thorax and a tail heavily marked with bright red (less so in female). Preferring well vegetated areas, it appears from mid-April and is often the first damsel (or dragonfly) on the wing.
Banded demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)
Length 43-48mm. A beautiful, dark, iridescent green (female) or blue (male), each of the wings of the male carry a large, inky-blue blotch. With a butterfly-like flutter, it settles on herbage along slow-moving, silt-bottomed streams.
Common darter (Sympetrum striolatum)
Length 35-40mm. The thorax is brown, but the tail a bright scarlet (male) or straw yellow (female). With a slim abdomen, it is active and restless, and will sun itself on bare ground or perch on water-side vegetation rather than erect stems.
Broad-bodied chaser (Libellula depressa)
Length 40-45mm. Has a distinctive broad, flat tail – the male powder or Wedgwood blue and flecked with yellow, the female (and immature males) all brown. The yellow marks can make them look hornet-like. Likes to perch frequently.
Emperor (Anax imperator)
Length 75-80mm. Our largest and brightest dragonfly, its thorax is apple green and the tail a blue (male) or green (female) with black linear marks. A powerful flier, it surveys open water from several metres up rather than skimming the surface.
Brown hawker (Aeshna grandis)
Length 70-76mm. Has a milk chocolate abdomen that is almost imperceptibly flecked with yellow (female) or blue (male). Wings are a smoky brown, visible even many metres away as it traverses a reed bed, lake, canal or slow-moving river. Glides, then flutters.
Southern hawker (Aeshna cyanea)
Length 65-77mm. Black, strongly marked with green and turquoise (female) or blue (male). Has a wedge mark on first tail segment and broad marks on the front of the thorax. A powerful inquisitive flyer, it will buzz a person as if to inspect them.
Want to spot more garden wildlife? Why not take a look at more of our wildlife identifiers to amphibians and reptiles and small mammals.
Many thanks to Chris Shields, for providing the beautiful illustrations used in this feature.