What Lies Beneath

Hi, I am David Pritchard and if you have read my Weird and Wonderful World of Dragonflies series of blogs last year, then you know that I am a dragonfly and damselfly nut. I have dedicated over 10 years studying these fantastic creatures and these series of blogs, my photography and the newly created Dragonfly information trail boards at RSPB Old Moor are the result. I sincerely hope that my enthusiasm rubs off and inspire you to take a closer look into the 'Weird and Wonderful World of Dragonflies'. I am also doing Dragonfly Walks in the Dearne Valley, the first of the season on Wednesday 1st of June, please follow link:

Dragonfly Walk.

Links to last years series of blogs can be found at the end of the text.

 

It's now the end of April, and we’re approaching the start of the Dragonfly flight season at Old Moor. From early May onwards, you can expect to see the first damselflies, closely followed by our Chasers. And perhaps something a little larger, but more about that later...


If you've been down to the reserve lately, you'll have noticed the first boards going up on our Dynamic Dragons trail. This will help you to identify and locate each of the species present at Old Moor. It's really been a labour of love for me, and I hope you'll enjoy watching out for the changing boards throughout the summer.


Dynamic Dragons trail board by the newt pond

A nymph is described as full-sized when its wing buds overlap four segments of their abdomen. This usually happens in the last few weeks before emergence, so the biggest nymphs tell you what is likely to emerge soon.

Banded Demoiselle nymph found in the River Dearne

Of course, if you want to see dragonflies now, you only have to go and hire one of our pond dipping kits and head down to one of the signposted dipping areas.

Dragonfly larvae might not be the prettiest of creatures, but they are no less fascinating than the adults.

Here are some quick facts:

  • Dragonfly typically live underwater for 1-3 years
  • They breathe through their bottoms and can expel water to travel by jet propulsion
  • Dragonfly and damselfly larvae are ambush predators, and can catch prey much larger than themselves with high-speed extending jaws.
  • They can shed their skins up to 18 times before reaching full size and leaving the water.
  • The shape of a nymph depends on its habits, hunting technique and micro habitat. Different species can look completely different when compared side by side.
  • A nymph is described as full-sized when its wing buds overlap four segments of their abdomen. This usually happens in the last few weeks before emergence, so the biggest nymphs tell you what is likely to emerge soon
  • Finding a nymph in your dipping tray, or the skin left after emergence, is the only way to confirm that breeding has been successful at a given body of water.


With that in mind, the first guided event of the year took place on the 28th of April. We knew that we wouldn't see anything in flight today, but that didn't matter. Our small group took to the Discovery Trail to look for Hairy Dragonfly nymphs. Even though this is a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack, we were delighted to find one (a full-sized female) within minutes. As one of the newer species to arrive at Old Moor (in the last three to four years), it was an exciting discovery! The small beady eyes and triangular head are unique amongst British dragonfly species.

Hairy Dragonfly nymph with enthusiastic onlookers

This species only likes mature ditches, which is why you'll see signs in some areas of the reserve prohibiting dipping. In contrast, species like the Broad Bodied Chaser prefer newer ponds with a silt later to hide in. By paying attention to the signs, you can help us to provide a range of habitats which will help us to ensure species diversity across the site.

Hairy Dragonflies are our rarest residents, so watch out over the next couple of weeks, as the nymph we saw is not far from taking to the skies. The first flying adult was spotted by one of our wardens today (29th April 2022). And for the bird watchers among you, it's worth noting that their size makes them a favourite food of Hobbies as they return to our shores, so they don't usually last long!

Hairy Dragonfly nymph. Note the smaller eyes and triangular head

2021 series - Weird and Wonderful World of Dragonflies

An Introduction

Its All About Wings

Eye for an Eye

Whats in the Name - The Trouble with Hawkers

Dragonfly Behaviour

Spotlight Species - Southern Hawkers

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