A blue-tailed damselfly. Photo by David Chapman
We have had a very late spring with cold weather in March and April affecting the emergence of species from hibernation and slowing the development of others from larvae. Even with this slow start, by the time we get into June we should be seeing plenty of dragonflies and damselflies around our garden ponds.
The term ‘dragonfly’ is used loosely to describe any species of damselfly or ‘true’ dragonfly. Identifying the different species of dragonfly can be challenging and firstly we need to be able to distinguish a dragonfly from a damselfly. To do this look at the way the creature holds its wings. Dragonflies hold their wings out at right angles to their body whereas damselflies hold them back alongside their body. Damselflies are also much smaller than dragonflies with abdomens generally thinner than a matchstick.
Here I will take a closer look at one of our commoner damselflies, the blue-tailed damselfly. This is also one of our more easily-identifiable species. It is common across the vast majority of the British Isles and is a species which is regularly seen at garden ponds, often taking readily to new ponds; it isn’t particularly fussy about its habitat so long as there is water and vegetation so it can also be seen around any lakes or canals for example.
Adult blue-tailed damselflies are quite easy to recognise since from above they appear to be black along their abdomen but with one bright blue segment near their tail end. The contrast between this ‘blue tail’ and the rest of its abdomen couldn’t be any clearer or better defined. (From the side, see photo, it is possible to see some of the colouration of their under body.) They also have colourful stripes on their thorax; here males are blue when mature but green when newly emerged, whereas the females are much more variable in colour being pink, purple, green or black depending on their age and form.
This really is a very tiny creature with a length of just over an inch and an exceptionally narrow abdomen. The first emergence of this species during the year usually occurs in mid-June, though I get the impression that this year they might be a little later. Most newly-emerged dragonflies will venture away from the water to mature, where they can be safer from predation, but blue-tailed damselflies tend to stay close to the water’s edge making them easier to spot. They have a second emergence in July and can be seen on the wing from May to September.
Fortunately for dragonfly watchers, the blue-tailed damselfly is less dependent on warm weather than many other dragonflies so even in cold weather we should be able to find at least this species in our gardens.