Dragonflies start life as larvae, living underwater in ponds, rivers and other wetlands. They truly are a case of the Ugly Duckling: green-brown in colour and often possessing sharp spines. But the real pièce de résistance of dragonfly larvae are their hunting equipment. Just like the adults, larvae are ferocious predators, with a lower lip that bursts forth like a high-speed arm and captures prey with its barbed tip. They will eat anything they can get a hold of, from worms to small frogs and fish. In Britain, a dragonfly can be in this larval stage from a few months up to 5 years, depending on the species.
Come spring, the secretive larvae are ready to become the show piece of the British summer. They crawl, sometimes long distances, from the water in order to find a perch on which to transform. The larvae are fussy, going from place to place to find the perfect spot and waving their arms around to check they have plenty of space. Only then does the incredible process of emergence begin. Like a scene from ‘Alien’, the adult bursts from the back of the larva, straining to pull its body free, and leaving you wondering how it fitted in the larval skin at all. At this stage, the dragonfly is soft and a ghostly pale grey or green; it needs to dry out, develop its magnificent colours and pump its wings up to their full glory. Then, the long awaited moment: the dragonfly takes flight for the first time in its life. The dragonfly adult will only live to enjoy this freedom for a few months.
There are many things you can do to keep the future of these fabulous insects secure. Why not dig a pond in your garden, or a community space, to provide a home for these wonderful creatures? Your will not be disappointed, as each summer you will be treated to close-up views of these beautiful animals. Digging a pond is great fun and something the whole family can get involved with and feel proud of achieving. You can also ensure there is plenty of insect food available for adult dragonflies by providing nectar-rich plants and not using pesticides. This ensures you have plenty of bees, hoverflies and moths visiting your green space.
You can visit one of the many fantastic dragonfly sites across Lancashire, such as Middleton Nature Reserve, a wonderful Wildlife Trust site just 25 minutes out of Lancaster. Here you can learn more about these fascinating creatures as you watch them whizz by and pull off loop-the-loops in order to catch prey on the wing. Many species, such as Southern Hawker, are also well known to be highly curious creatures, often coming up close to people to investigate them. Additionally, passing on an enthusiasm for dragonflies can be hugely satisfying, especially introducing children to these incredible creatures at your local school or youth group.
The most important thing is to simply enjoy dragonflies. These insects are the crowning jewels of the British countryside, so get out there this summer and immerse yourself in the magical world of dragonflies.
Do Dragonflies Bite or Sting?
No, although large dragonflies if held in the hand will sometimes try to bite, but fail to break the skin. They have a lot of “folk names” which imply that they do (such as Horse stinger), but they don’t use their egg-laying tube (ovipositor) for stinging.
For more information on dragonflies and how you can help them, visit the British Dragonfly Society website: www.british-dragonflies.org.uk.
Read the article in the magazine here