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Looking out for dragonflies

Common darter dragonfly on blade of grass at Croome, Worcestershire
Common darter dragonfly at Croome, Worcestershire | © National Trust Images/Tracey Blackwell

Along with their damselfly cousins, dragonflies have hovered the earth since pre-historic times. But now they’re becoming a less familiar sight because of threats to the wetland habitats they live in. Find out how to help protect them and conserve these delicate ecosystems. We’ve challenged some of our keen-eyed nature lovers to compete in our Dragonfly League – and you can join in too.

How to spot a dragonfly

With shimmering bodies flashing in the sun, dragonflies can fly sideways and even backwards on fast, agile wings. Their powerful eyes see ultraviolet light so they can easily spot prey and snatch meals on the go.

Summer months are the best time to spot these exotic insects. They’re out in force from mid-May to August, although you might see some as late as October.

Pick a warm, sunny day when there’s no wind and explore near a pond, lake, river or nature reserve. To get a clear photo, try peaceful spots fringed with plants: they like to perch on stems and leaves.

What's the difference between a dragonfly and a damselfly?

  • Dragonflies look quite similar to their smaller cousins, but they are usually bigger and stronger with larger eyes.
  • One way to tell the difference is to look at their wings. Damselflies have four wings that are all almost the same length, while the back wings of dragonflies are usually shorter and wider.
  • Resting dragonflies hold their wings out at right angles, while damselflies rest theirs along the length of their bodies.

Dragonflies to spot

Common blue damselfly

This blue and black damselfly can be found hovering gently over the surface of most waters.

A light blue dragonfly with a wide body and black, outstretched wings with blurred green vegetation behind
A broad bodied chaser dragonfly | © National Trust Images/Derek Hatton

Brown hawker dragonfly

A common dragonfly seen near canals and lakes, easily recognised by its chocolate-brown body and tiny yellow and blue markings. It has distinctive transparent brown wings.

Common darter dragonfly

A summer and autumn species that can be spotted well into November. Males are bright red while the females and immature adults are golden-brown.

Four spotted chaser dragonfly

These are active dragonflies which can be seen around ponds, lakes and in woods. When perched you may be able to get close for a good look and easily see the four spots on the wings.

Blue tailed damselfly

The males always have a blue spot on the ‘tail’ and blue eyes. They can occur in large numbers along with other damselflies.

Large red damselfly

This distinctive and brightly coloured damselfly has a deep scarlet body with black legs and a gold band on its tail.

A dark blue and black damselfly sits on a large green leaf
A banded demoiselle damselfly | © National Trust Images/Derek Hatton

Banded demoiselle dragonfly

You can spot this one from the distinctive bands on its wings, which are blue on the male and pale green on the female. You can see them along riverbanks.

Threats to dragonfly populations

Despite being ace flyers and expert hunters, some dragonfly numbers are falling across the UK. It’s a sign their wetland habitats aren’t as healthy as they once were, with pollution and climate change taking their toll, too.

The Dragonfly League

To protect these magnificent minibeasts and the creatures that share their habitats, we’ve created a Dragonfly League at some of the places we look after. We’re challenging our gardeners, rangers and volunteers to spot as many dragonfly species as possible.

To monitor ecosystems, lots of different species are used as indicators of the quality and health of their habitats. Besides keeping an eye on dragonfly numbers, it’s helping us understand how to improve wetlands and encourage more wildlife to move in.

How the Dragonfly League works

A bit like a football league, teams at different National Trust places compete for top spots in the table. The more species they spy, the more points they score. They’ll notch up extra points for rare species like the metallic green willow emerald damselfly, or the Norfolk hawker with its green eyes and orange-brown body.

It means our resident nature lovers are always on the lookout for elusive species that will get them to the top of the table by the end of the season.

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