Spotting dragons and damsels across Lochaber
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.