Spot­ting dragons and dam­sels across Lochaber

The Oban Times - - Outdoors - www.glen­loy­wildlife.co.uk

AS BE­FITS north­ern climes, we do not have many species of drag­on­flies and dam­sel­flies, with per­haps only 15 breed­ing in Lochaber, but we do have some lo­cal spe­cial­i­ties.

Th­ese in­clude the evoca­tively named azure hawker, north­ern emer­ald, white­faced darter and beau­ti­ful demoi­selle.

There has been a grow­ing in­ter­est in spot­ting and pho­tograph­ing all the Bri­tish species of odonata, so such rar­i­ties may even at­tract the vis­it­ing nat­u­ral­ist.

June and July are peak months for lo­cal species. Some thrive in bog pools, while oth­ers pre­fer small fast-flow­ing burns or the reedy fringes of shal­low lochans.

Most feed on small in­sects, in­clud­ing midges. Dif­fer­ent feed­ing strate­gies are em­ployed, which are hinted at by the generic names such as hawk­ers, chasers or skim­mers.

Eggs are laid on aquatic veg­e­ta­tion. On hatch­ing, dam­sel­fly nymphs spend up to a year in the water be­fore climb­ing up emer­gent plants to shed their fi­nal stage lar­val skin and de­velop wings.

Drag­on­flies can spend up to five years in the water, the nymphs feed­ing on crea­tures as large as tad­poles or small fish. The warmth of the sun is needed to heat up their flight mus­cles and al­low them to hunt, so drag­on­flies are best looked for on warm sunny days with lit­tle wind.

Some of the larger drag­on­flies, such as the later ap­pear­ing com­mon hawker, can live for sev­eral months, but none sur­vives the first frosts of win­ter.

Drag­on­flies are eas­ily over­looked, par­tic­u­larly in less-well pop­u­lated ar­eas like ours, so dis­tri­bu­tions are poorly known.

A lucky vis­i­tor re­cently found a white-faced darter in Glen Loy, for ex­am­ple, which would be a new lo­ca­tion for this small, ac­tive drag­on­fly. This fol­lows last year’s dis­cov­ery of an azure hawker in the same area.

Cli­mate change is also in­flu­enc­ing the move­ment of th­ese in­sects. The in­quis­i­tive south­ern hawker may al­ready be breed­ing in a pond near you, and th­ese are likely to be fol­lowed soon by the azure dam­sel­fly.

If you see any dragons or dam­sels please do take a record, to­gether with a pho­to­graph if you are un­sure of the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

For more in­for­ma­tion, and to sub­mit records, see the Bri­tish Drag­on­fly So­ci­ety web­site, https:// bri­tish- drag­on­flies.org.uk.

An azure hawker has been seen in Lochaber.

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