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Dragonflies in the Copse


A good year for dragonflies

This year has been a good one for butterflies and dragonflies in the Copse. In particular many of you may have noticed the numbers of dragonflies flying there, and I thought it might be interesting to say a little about these fascinating insects. Before that, however, there are two common misconceptions about dragonflies that need to be corrected.

Firstly, dragonflies do not sting! They may look ferocious and have long narrow abdomens, but they do not sting and are quite safe to humans. Secondly, dragonflies spend most of their adult lives away from water. It is true the larval stages live in water – perhaps in Willow Pond – but the final adult stage spends much of its aerial life away from water.

The full-grown larva climbs the stem of a plant at the edge of the pond. At the top of the stem, it dries and the adult insect emerges. This adult spends weeks flying along rides and woodland edges where it feeds on smaller insects.

When sexually mature it returns to the pond to mate. The mated female will lay her eggs in the water so starting the cycle again.

Two main types of dragonfly will be seen as you walk through the Copse. The larger are the hawkers. These “hawk” (that’s how they got their name) along woodland edges and rides searching for prey, and are fast, acrobatic fliers in the sunshine.

The two most common species in the Copse now are the southern hawker and the migrant hawker.

A medium-sized brown or red dragonfly will be a darter. These sit on suitable perches – being especially fond of the top of dead foxglove stems. From these perches they watch for insect prey, “darting” out (again the source of their name) to catch it before returning to their perch to eat it.

Most darter dragonflies in the Copse are common darters – the male is red and the female brown – although the ruddy darter may sometimes be seen over Willow Pond. Damselflies are much smaller insects which fly with shimmering wings over the water in Willow Pond. It has even been suggested that the shimmering of a damselfly’s wings in flight was the origin of the idea of fairies! Several species of damselfly frequent the Copse including the azure, common blue, blue-tailed and large red. The last-named will be the first damsel seen in the year – look for it over Willow Pond from mid-April onwards.

Of the 39 species of dragons and damsels resident in Britain, 11 have been seen in the Copse. In addition to the hawkers mentioned above, other large dragons include the emperor, broadbodied chaser and the hairy dragonfly. The hairy is the first large dragonfly to appear in the year – look for it from early May onwards. It has been noticeable this summer how much use the dragonflies are making in the Copse of the new areas of coppiced sweet chestnut and the rides cut by the Crumblies. Their conservation work is beginning to pay off!

Mike Perry

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