British Damsel & Dragonflies

Also known as odonata the damselflies & dragonflies are fascinating insects of the warmer months.  The earliest fossil records date back some 300 million years!  These beautiful creatures have not evolved much in that time which goes to show how efficient they are.  There are 62 species on the British list, however this includes rare vagrants and those that have become extinct in recent times.  A more realistic figure is around 45 but with predicted global warming this may increase.  There are several more species I have yet to see let alone photograph so this page will be updated as and when.

Terminology.  A few words I may use explained.  Pruinescence.  This is a blue coloured powder that forms on the male of some species as they mature.  Pterostigma.  A small coloured cell on the leading edge, towards the tip, on all four wings.  This helps to stabalise flight.  Antehumeral stripes.  Shoulder stripes on the upper thorax.  ws =  wingspan, l = body length, fp = flight period.  The females of nearly all species differ greatly in colour to the male.

My favourite field guide is Dragonflies & Damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland by Steve Brooks and Steve Cham with beautiful illustrations by Richard Lewington, ISBN 978-1-4729-6453-3.  Also a big thanks to Neil Marks and Tabs Taberham and members of UK Dragonflies & Damselfies fb group for help in difficult I.D.


CALOPTERYGIDAE  The demoiselles


Beautiful Demoiselle  (Calopteryx virgo)

ws 58-63mm  l 45-49mm  fp May – August

A species that loves fast moving, clean gravel bottomed rivers.  Mostly found in the south and west.  The wings of the female lack the dark colour.

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Beautiful Demoiselle (male) Holker Estate, Cumbria

Banded Demoiselle  (Calopteryx splendens)

ws 61-65mm  l 45-48mm  fp May – August

Found in areas of slower moving water with muddy bottom.  Widespread over most of  England.  The female is green and lacks the wing colour.

Banded Demoiselle (male) Warham Camp, Norfolk
Banded Demoiselle (female) Honing, Norfolk


LESTIDAE  The emeralds


Emerald Damselfly  (Lestes sponsa)

ws 42-45mm  l 36-39mm  fp July – august

Common and widespread, prefers still water.  Only the male has the blue pruinescence which wears off with age.

Emerald Damselfly (male) Winterton Dunes, Norfolk
Emerald Damselfly (female) Thompson Common, Norfolk

Scarce Emerald Damselfly  (Lestes dryas)

ws 45-47mm  l 34-39mm  fp June – august

Restricted to an area of the Brecks in Norfolk/Suffolk and around the Thames estuary.  Difficult to separate from the Emerald, however on the male the pruinescence at the top of the abdomen is not as extensive and the pterostigma is squarer and edged white.  The best I.D for males is the shape of the inner anal appendages but you need a good photograph to see these properly!

Scarce Emerald Damselfly (male) Thompson Common, Norfolk

Southern Emerald Damselfly  (Lestes barbarus)

ws 45-47mm  l 34-39mm  fp June -September

First recorded in 2002, can only be found in a handful of sites mostly around the Thames estuary.  Has a bi-coloured pterostigma.

Southern Emerald Damselfly (male) Canvey Island, Essex




Willow Emerald Damselfly  (Chalcolestes viridis)

ws 50-63mm  l 38-45mm  fp June – November

Another recent colonist.  First recorded in 2007 on the Suffolk coast it is spreading steadily westward.  Lays it’s eggs in bark overhanging the water so the larvae fall in on emergence to continue their growth.

Willow Emerald Damselfly (female) Hickling Broad, Norfolk


PLATYCNEMIDIDAE  The white-legged damselflies


White-legged Damselfly  (Platycnemis pennipes)

ws 43-46mm  l 35-37mm  fp May – August

A central and southern species found in vegetation often away from slow flowing waters.  Very susceptible to pollution and disturbance to bankside habitat.  The males are pale blue but both sexes have the diagnostic swollen white legs and pale brown pterostigma.

White-legged Damselfly (imm male) Flatford, Suffolk



COENAGRIONIDAE  The red & blue damselflies


Large Red Damselfly  (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)

ws 44-48mm  l 34-36mm  fp April – August

Widespread throughout the UK and often the first odonata seen in spring.  The males are brighter red with less black to the tip of the abdomen.

Large Red Damselfly Nth Walsham, Norfolk

Small Red Damselfly  (Ceriagrion tenellum)

ws 34-40mm  l 27-35mm  fp May – September

A scarce species of southern counties and west Wales, one small colony in East Anglia.  It favours lowland heath and bogs.  ID features, red legs and pterostigma, males have no black on the abdomen.

Small Red Damselfly (Male) Scarning Fen, Norfolk
Small Red Damselfly (female) Scarning Fen, Norfolk

Azure Damselfly  (Coenagrion puella)

ws 38-44mm  l 32-35mm  fp May – August

A common species found in a variety of habitats up to central Scotland.  The females are mostly green and black.

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Azure Damselflies Upton Fen, Norfolk

Variable Damselfly  (Coenagrion pulchellum)

ws 39-45mm  l 31-35mm  fp May – August

Can be mistaken for other blue damsels.  The male usually has broken antehumeral stripes.  Each species of blue has a different black mark on segment two of the upper abdomen and it’s best to consult a field guide.  Not very common with a patchy distribution.

Variable Damselfly (female) Hickling Broad, Norfolk

Common Blue Damselfly  (Enallagma cyathigerum)

ws 32-41mm  l 29-35mm  fp May – September

The most abundant and widespread of all odonata.  Prefers still and slow moving water.

Common Blue Damselfly (male) Thompson Water, Norfolk

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfy  (Ishnura pumilio)

ws 30-36mm  l 27-31mm  fp May – August

Scattered colonies in south, south/west and south Wales.  Favours shallow sparsely vegitated pools and boggy  seepages on heathland.  Has started to colonise quarries and chalk pits in central England.  A weak flier that keeps low and close to emergent plants.

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly (male) Norfolk
Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly (female) Norfolk


Blue-tailed Damselfly  (Ishnura elegans)

ws 34-40mm  l 29-33mm  fp May – September

Common and widespread.  The females come in several colour forms from green (infuscans) to purple (violacea).

Blue-tailed Damselflies Hickling Broad, Norfolk

Red-eyed Damselfly  (Erythromma najas)

ws 41-48mm  l 33-37mm  fp May – August

Quite common in south and east England.  Likes to sit on floating water weed i.e lilies.

Red-eyed Damselfly Thompson Water, Norfolk

Small Red-eyed Damselfly  (Erythromma viridulum)

ws 36-42mm  l 26-32mm  fp July – September

Found in the UK as recently as 1999 in eastern England, now spread as far as Wales.  Difficult to tell apart from the Red-eyed Damselfly without good views.  Has paler red eyes, more blue at the tip of the abdomen and a black cross on the upperside of the tip.

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Small Red-eyed Damselfly Thompson Water, Norfolk


AESHNIDAE  The hawkers


Hairy Dragonfly  (Brachytron pratense)

ws 69-75mm  l 52-62mm  fp May – July

The smallest and earliest of the ‘hawkers’ to emerge.  Not common but has a widespread and patchy distribution.  As the name suggests the thorax is covered in a fine down. The males have blue spots on the abdomen and prominent antehumeral stripes.  In the female these stripes are reduced and the spotting is yellow.

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Hairy Dragonfly (male) Hickling Broad, Norfolk

Southern Migrant Hawker  (Aeshna affinis)

ws 81-89mm  l 55-65mm  fp June – September

A recent colonist from the Continent first found breeding in 2010.  Several sites around the Thames estuary but is expanding it’s range.

Southern Migrant Hawkers Canvey Island, Essex

Migrant Hawker  (Aeshna mixta)

ws 81-89mm  l 55-65mm  fp July – October

Well established in England and spreading north and west.  Likes slow moving and still waters but is often seen in gardens.

Migrant Hawker (male) Ridlington, Norfolk

Southern Hawker  (Aeshna cyanea)

ws 94-106mm  l 65-75mm  fp June – October

This big dragon likes slow moving and still water.  Often lays it’s eggs in rotting wood by the waterside.  Can be seen in woods and gardens over most of England, scarce in Scotland.

Southern hawker (male) Witton, Norfolk
Southern Hawker (female) Bayfield, Norfolk

Brown Hawker  (Aeshna grandis)

ws 96-108mm  l 69-77mm  fp July – October

The only British dragonfly with coloured wings.  Rarely settles.  Hunts along hedges, woods and open water.

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Brown Hawker (male) Upton Fen, Norfolk

Norfolk Hawker  (Anaciaeshna isosceles)

ws 89-97mm  l 64-68mm  fp May – July

Once restricted to the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads but has now spread to the Fens.  Seen patrolling marshland dykes.

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Norfolk Hawker Upton Fen, Norfolk

Emperor Dragonfly  (Anax imperator)

ws 100-110mm  l 68-86mm  fp June – September

The biggest wingspan of all British dragons.  An impressive sight over lakes, ponds and slow moving rivers.  The female is mostly green.

Emperor Dragonfly (male) Ludham, Norfolk

Lesser Emperor  (Anax parthenope)

ws 93-107mm  l 63-75mm  fp May – September

A rare vagrant from Southern Europe.  First recorded in 1996 it has been known to breed so may become a permanent resident.

Lesser Emperor (female) Winterton, Norfolk


CORDULIIDAE  The emerald dragonflies


Downy Emerald  (Cordulia aenea)

ws 64-72mm  l 46-54mm  fp May – August

Mostly found in southern England with a few scattered colonies in the north and Scotland.  Males patrol low over the margins of tree lined pools.  Normally perch in the canopy.  Medium sized with the males having an uptilted club shaped abdomen that is dark greenish bronze.

Downy Emerald (male) Norfolk


LIBELLULIDAE  The chasers, skimmers & darters


Scarce Chaser  (Libellula fulva)

ws 70-78mm  l 42-46mm  fp May – July

When freshly emerged these dragonflies are a striking deep orange.  The females eventually turn dark brown whilst the males develop a powder blue pruinescence.  Not common and restricted to East Anglia and southern Counties.

Scarce Chaser (Female) Strumpshaw Fen, Norfolk
Scarce Chaser (male) Strumpshaw Fen, Norfolk

Four-spotted Chaser  (Libellula quadrimaculata)

ws 72-82mm  l 39-47mm  fp May – August

Common and widespread.  A still water species that can form into swarms and have large communal roosts in reedbeds.  Both sexes are the same colour but have different shaped anal appendages.

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Four-spotted Chaser (male) Upton Fen, Norfolk

Broad-bodied Chaser  (Libellula depressa)

ws 42-50mm  l 40-46 mm  fp May – August

A very flat and compact looking dragonfly.  Prefers well vegetated still waters and ditches. Not found in Scotland.  The males become blue with pruinescence.

Broad-bodied Chaser (female) Hickling Broad, Norfolk
Broad-bodied Chaser (male) Nth Walsham, Norfolk

Black-tailed Skimmer  (Orthetrum cancellatum)

ws-73-81mm  l 44-52mm  fp May – August

Likes to rest on bare ground and is tricky to approach.  The female is yellow with two black lines on the abdomen.  Found from the west midlands eastward.

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Black-tailed Skimmer (male) Upton Fen, Norfolk

Keeled Skimmer  (Orthetrum coerulescens)

ws 57-63mm  l 38-46mm  fp May – August

Found mostly in the south and west on wet heath and moorland.  Often sits low down with it’s wings swept forward.

Keeled Skimmer (female) Holt Lowes, Norfolk
Keeled Skimmer (male) Holt Lowes, Norfolk

Common Darter  (Sympetrum striolatum)

ws 55-62mm  l 34-42mm  fp June – October

Widespread and abundant across the Country.  Can be found well away from water but not on higher ground.

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Common Darter (female) Alderfen Broad, Norfolk
Common Darter (male) Nth Walsham, Norfolk

Ruddy Darter  (Sympetrum sanguineum)

ws 52-58mm  l 32-38mm  fp June – October

Very similar to the Common darter but has all black legs.  The males are also a brighter red with a narrow ‘waist’.  More confined to south east England.

Ruddy Darter (male) Horsey, Norfolk
Ruddy Darter (female) Canvey Island, Essex

Black Darter  (Sympetrum danae)

ws 50-56mm  l 33-40mm  fp July – October

A species of lowland heath and upland moor.  Rare in the midlands and East Anglia.

Black Darter (male) Latterbarrow, Cumbria