Damsels and dragons

Damsels and dragons

Common blue damselfly (c) Vicky Nall

Mid summer is a great time to go out in search of odanata: the group of insects that is made up of dragonflies and damselflies. Often a misunderstood (and feared) group of insects, odonata are some of the most impressive insects that we have in Shropshire.

Do dragonflies bite and breath fire?

Dragonflies got their English name due to a mistranslation of the word "devil" from the original Romanian name for the insect group. The Romanian word for "devil": "drac" was translated as "dragon". To many, they have a terrifying appearance, comparable to an image of the devil himself, but look at them a little more closely and it is clear that they are not the scary creatures they are made out to be. Decorated with a multitude of different colours and equipped with impressive kaleidoscope eyes, dragonflies are stunning creatures. But they have nothing to do with dragons.

Dragonflies are larger, with thicker bodies than damselflies. When resting, the always hold their wings out at right-angles to their bodies and the front and rear wings are unequal in size. Dragonflies also have large eyes with no gap in between them.

As aerial predators, dragonflies are equipped with a fearsome-looking set of teeth, which they use for catching and eating other insects; from mosquitoes to small moths and butterflies (and occasionally, even other dragons!). But those gnashers aren't sturdy enough to bite through human skin and it is very unlikely that you are likely to be attacked by dragonflies, Those individuals that hover around humans are often just looking for a safe place to land and rest, rather than finding a juicy arm to bite. The people most likely to be bitten are entomologists when they handle dragons directly on surveys, but that is an act of simple self defence from the insect.

You can spot dragonflies in a range of habitats in Shropshire; from woodlands and meadows to river banks and peatbogs. Only their larvae depend on water, but once they emerge as adults, they will happily venture great distances from water in search of good places to eat and rest, before returning to water to mate and lay eggs.

Some dragonflies to look out for in Shropshire include:

Damselflies in distress

Smaller than dragonflies, damselflies also have a flimsier appearance and are weak flyers in comparison to their larger counterparts. They tend to rest with their equal-sized wings laid back along the length of their body. Despite their weak flight, they are still adept hunters of smaller insects and feed on 100s of mosquitoes each day.

Damsels tend to stay nearer to water as adults and are most likely to be spotted drifting around close to bankside vegetation in search of food. Like dragonflies, they come in many different colours: metallic green, bright reds and blues, but none are more impressive that the beautiful demoiselle. Demoiselles are true damselflies, but their name is borrowed from the French for "young lady" or maiden. Great places to watch these metallic, almost luminescent insect are along river banks with good covers of grasses, sedges and rushes. 

Both damselflies and dragonflies are on the wing for short periods, so get out to spot them now while the sun in still shining!

Damselflies in Shropshire include:

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