This summer, dragonflies with their smaller cousins - the damselflies – will zip and zoom through our countryside and gardens in search of water.
These distinctive, intriguing creatures are easy to spot and bring flashes of colour as our wildflowers fade. Dragonflies hold their wings at right angles to their bodies while damselflies usually fold them over their backs. Like many species, the females tend to be much duller in colour than the showy males. Some males fly continuously over the water while others perch on bankside plants or twigs, allowing closer inspection.
An ancient group of distinctive insects - found droning over tropical lands well before the first dinosaurs - their unique features, including vein patterns in their wings, have barely changed in 300 million years. Two of the oldest dragonfly fossils in the world were found in a coal mine in Bolsover in 1978, which revealed ancestors of our modern dragonflies were much bigger, with wingspans of up to 50 centimetres.
Adult dragonflies and damselflies are on the wing for relatively short periods in summer. Fearsome predators, they hunt smaller insects. Their sole purpose is to mate and lay eggs in the water, which hatch within a week or two into tiny larvae or nymphs. These drop to the bottom of the water where they grow into fierce carnivores, feeding on tadpoles and small creatures. In turn, nymphs try to avoid being a frog or toad’s next meal.
BELOW: The four spot chaser