Derbyshire Life - - Wildlife -

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

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