SWT LACKFORD LAKES: Reserve is a great place to see colourful dragonflies

Brown hawker dragonfly. Picture: James Robinson ANL-140906-093514001

Brown hawker dragonfly. Picture: James Robinson ANL-140906-093514001

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Lackford Lakes is a Site of Special Scientific Interest; not only for wintering wildfowl but also for the number of dragonfly and damselfly species which breed here.

We have 19 in all. Some of them, for example the willow emerald damselfly, have only expanded their range into the UK recently.

Emerging southern hawker. Picture by James Robinson ANL-140906-093458001

Emerging southern hawker. Picture by James Robinson ANL-140906-093458001

Larvae live under water (they have gills) for anything up to five years. They are voracious predators and attack anything of a smaller or similar size – including each other. When they are ready to emerge, they crawl up a suitable stalk of vegetation and the adult dragonfly breaks through the skin of the back of the larva, gradually expands its body and spreads its wings before flying off. After a few days hardening off they reappear at the waterside as the staggeringly colourful insects with which we are familiar.

Males wait close to water and grasp any female they can get hold of. The pair then form into a ‘wheel’ while mating and, in some non-territorial species, the male holds on to the female while she lays her eggs to ensure that no other male can take his place.

Individuals of most species time their emergence so that a ‘flush’ will appear. With some this is in May, and with others as late as the beginning of August. The numbers of that species will then gradually decrease as predation by birds, fish, spiders and other larger dragonfly species takes place. Some members of the later emerging species will survive into late November to be killed off by a strong frost.

Dragonflies, when at rest, always hold their wings straight out or pointed slightly forward. They are extremely strong fliers and can easily migrate from the Continent. Most damselflies hold their wings by their sides when at rest and are smaller, more delicately built creatures whose flight is far more fluttery.

Mating blue-tailed damselflies. Picture by James Robinson ANL-140906-093525001

Mating blue-tailed damselflies. Picture by James Robinson ANL-140906-093525001

Every two weeks from May to September the number of each species is counted along the same stretch of water – but only when the weather is dry, sunny, warm and relatively still.

The pleasure of sitting by water watching these fascinating, beautiful creatures going about their business is immense, now is a great time to visit Lackford Lakes to see these winged wonders.