Home > Pond Life > Pond Life - Dragonflies and Their Relatives

Pond Life - Dragonflies and Their Relatives

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 21 Apr 2019 | comments*Discuss
 
Darters Hawkers Damselflies Nymph

A brightly coloured dragonfly zipping across the surface of a pond is one of the iconic images of a British summer - though in some parts of the country, an increasingly rare one. Dragonflies and their relatives, the damselflies, were amongst the first things to fly, taking to the air back in the Carboniferous Era - about 150 million years before the dinosaurs appeared! Virtually unchanged since then, they have proved themselves to be a highly successful group during the intervening 300 million years or so, but more recently life has become a little more difficult for them. Over the last fifty years, with the gradual loss of more and more of their natural wetland habitats, three British species have become extinct - making the haven offered by garden ponds increasingly important for many of the 39 kinds which still remain.

The Water Dragon

Although at its most conspicuous in the air on a sunny day, most of the dragonfly's life is lived underwater, as a voraciously carnivorous nymph. In a lifespan of six or seven years in the case of some of the larger species, only around four months will be spent as a winged adult - so a good pond to call home is clearly essential!

Hatching from eggs laid directly in the water or inserted into mud or water plants, the young which emerge waste no time in finding a meal - and will continue to eat anything they can capture as they grow. The prey is grabbed in a lightning-fast lunge of a pincer-like extension of their lower jar - called the "mask" - in a scene scarily reminiscent of the "Alien" movies! Unfortunately since their varied menu can include tadpoles, small newts and fish fry, they are not always particularly popular with pond owners. However, unless they are present in large numbers, the damage they do is not so great and, in their favour, they can help to control the population of other predatory insects.

Dragonflies are unusual in that, unlike insects such as butterflies, moths and houseflies, they do not have a chrysalis or pupa stage. When the time is right, the nymphs simply climb out of the water up the stem of a plant, shed their skins, expand and dry their wings and then fly away as fully formed adults in search of food and a mate.

Darters, Hawkers and Damselflies

Dragonflies fall into two main groups - the darters and the hawkers - based on their hunting behaviour. The typical long, thin bodied dragonfly is a hawker, patrolling its patch and swooping on any likely looking prey that it comes across, while the shorter, fatter-bodied darters find themselves a good vantage point to perch on, and then dart out when food is in range. Both are superlative fliers; highly manoeuvrable and with some species having a top speed touching 30 mph, they make fearsome hunters.

Damselflies look very similar to their relatives and can often be mistaken for a less robust kind of dragonfly. However, there are a few general guides to telling them apart and once you "get your eye in", it's not too difficult to spot the differences. Damselflies are generally smaller and slighter in build, and while dragonflies can often been encountered some distance from water, the damselfly is a weaker flier and seldom strays far from its home pond. The eyes of a dragonfly are very prominent - usually so large that they wrap around the head and often touch - and a perching dragonfly spreads its wings out to the side. By contrast, at rest the smaller-eyed damselfly tends to hold its wings folded back along its body.

There are probably few kinds of native pond-life for which garden ponds can make quite so much of a difference as either dragonflies or damselflies. With so much of their lives spent lurking underwater, ponds are absolutely key to their survival - and having both pre-dated and outlived T.rex and his kin, they are probably due a little help now.

Rejoicing in a variety of fanciful old names, including Adder Bolt, Horse Stinger and Devil's Darning Needle and with a rich folklore all of its own, the true life of the dragonfly is every bit as fascinating as its mythology.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Hi, I have dragonfly larvae in my pond but over the last couple of days I am finding dead/ empty skins floating on the top. Do they shed their skins like a snake? I can’t see water mites but doesn’t mean they are not there…can I do anything to help them stay alive? Many thanks Jess
JessH198 - 21-Apr-19 @ 12:47 PM
What is the name of the dragonfly (?) that has 4 wings, skinning wing length but a box shape end that measures approx. 3/8 inch square at end of each wing ? It's brown in color with black patches over body an box wing tips.
Tinkerer - 21-Jun-11 @ 10:47 PM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
Title:
(never shown)
Firstname:
(never shown)
Surname:
(never shown)
Email:
(never shown)
Nickname:
(shown)
Comment:
Validate:
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • Tom
    Re: Why Is My Pond Green and Frothy?
    My pool contains approx 700 gallons of water. In it I have a large health lily plant which covers a 3rd of the surface. I…
    15 August 2019
  • Charlongo79
    Re: Plant Problems
    We bought a miniature water lily 3 years ago and for the last two years it has had lovely small leaves and flowers on it. This year however it is…
    13 August 2019
  • Bartlam
    Re: Edging Your Pond
    This is my first pond.worried I overfed the fish cause the water gone brown.do I have to cover the top of the pond with slabs.when I bought the…
    9 August 2019
  • DorsetDave
    Re: Is There a Way to Deter Grass Snakes From My Pond?
    I'm afraid my experience is grass snakes DO eat the fish in our pond. We live on the edge of a…
    4 August 2019
  • Wisemaiden
    Re: Fish Diseases and Ailments
    I have a fish with the same problem as Probie, laying on the bottom,very bloated then swimming around in circles. What can I do to…
    3 August 2019
  • Wisemaiden
    Re: Fish Diseases and Ailments
    I have the same problem as Probie 23rd March, I have a fish doing the same , very bloated, laying on the bottom, then swimming around…
    3 August 2019
  • Farmer kay
    Re: Building a Concrete Pond
    I really appreciate the info, it was useful.. Please how many fishes can a concrete pond of 15 by 12 and 4 depth can take
    1 August 2019
  • Dee
    Re: Plant Problems
    Our large pond is now almost over taken by water hawthorn how can it be controlled. As we are in advancing years who would you contact to help.
    1 August 2019
  • Pondlady
    Re: Is There a Way to Deter Grass Snakes From My Pond?
    Hi For those who think that grass snakes don't take fish, I have just caught one dragging a large fish…
    27 July 2019
  • Nicknick
    Re: Autumn Pond Maintenance
    Locking forward to expanding my my knowledge and experience ,in this instance care and treatment of yellow flag iris, to cut or not cut?
    27 July 2019