Wildlife Column with Prof Ian Rotherham
The now long hot summer is shaping up well for the big dragons! From large ones like the brown hawker, northern hawker, southern hawker, and the evocatively named emperor dragonfly, to the slightly smaller darters and chasers, they are doing well.
Close to where I live, Renishaw Lakes on the Sitwell Estate in North Derbyshire is a particularly good site; but then so is Little Barbrook Reservoir on the Eastern Moors estate of the Peak National Park.
One (Renishaw) is a lowland site and the other (Barbrook) around fifteen miles away is in the uplands and is a good place to spot one of our biggest and most spectacular dragons, the golden ringed dragonfly. This breeds in fast-flowing uplands streams but will range around in search of prey.
As well as larger sites like Renishaw, these big dragons will also turn up at smaller locations like garden ponds. Damselflies frequently breed in smaller ponds but the bigger dragonflies are often just passing through in search of easy pickings. Another hawker to watch out for is the slightly more diminutive ‘migrant hawker’ and there are plenty around at the moment.
They sometimes bend the abdomen slightly in flight, but otherwise their smaller size is helpful in identification. Female dragonflies like hawkers bend their abdomen downwards to lay their eggs in or sometimes just near the water surface. They may dip under the water to find a good spot, or in the case of the one in my picture, seem to lay on any surface close to a suitable pond.
The eggs will hatch into a rather ferocious ‘nymph’ and this is the stage during which the dragonfly spends the bulk of its life; which for the bigger species can be a few years. The main role of the nymph is to eat and grow! Their amazing extendible jaws I think were the inspiration for the alien in the film of the same name. In the aquatic environment of the pond these are significant predators. You can watch for the adults until the first frosts.
Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues.