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Help us find dragonflies and damselflies in London

Red-eyed damselfly (credit Vicky Nall)Red-eyed damselfly (credit Vicky Nall)

We are looking for 'Dragonfly Detectives' - can you help us find London’s hawkers, chasers, skimmers and damsels?

Between May and September London’s streams, rivers and ponds light up with the dazzling, darting flight of dragonflies and damselflies. These impressive insects, collectively known as odonata, thrive where the water is clean and are a great indicator species of healthy ecosystems.

Despite being such attractive and fascinating insects, little is known about their distribution across London. By understanding where dragonfly and damselfly species live we will be able to judge how healthy, or unhealthy, London’s freshwater habitats are. 

Dragonflies and damselflies spend most of their lives as predatory, subsurface larvae, dependent on a good supply of aquatic insects to feed on. This means they can be very sensitive to poor water conditions. As adults they are also highly mobile, quickly colonising new habitats as water quality improves, or as climate change opens up new territories.

Seen a dragonfly in London?

 

As part of our Water for Wildlife project we are asking Londoners to join us as Dragonfly Detectives, to help us map dragonflies and damselflies across Greater London. If you see a dragonfly or damselfly you can add it to our online database. It’s easy to do and every sighting will help us build a better picture of the health of London’s streams, rivers and ponds, helping us protect these precious, but fragile, environments.

 

How to identify dragonflies

Ruddy darter dragonfly © Iain Leach

Dragonflies are some of Britain’s largest insects with a body length of up to 8.5cm and wingspans that can reach 12cm. Dragonflies have a strong, purposeful flight, with some species capable of travelling up to 2km in search of smaller insects, which they catch in the air.

The skilful flight and predatory behaviour of dragonflies is reflected in some of their names: hawkers, chasers and skimmers.

 

How to identify damselflies

Emerald damselfly © Iain LeachDamselflies are smaller, typically being around 3.5cm – 4.5cm long. When resting, a damselfly’s wings are held closed and folded together across the top of their backs (unlike dragonflies, whose wings remain outstretched, like the wings of an aeroplane).

Damselflies have a weak, fluttery flight and tend to swarm near water and bankside vegetation.

 

More information

Images and descriptions of many dragonfly and damselfly species can be found on our website here.

A comprehensive database of dragonfly and damselfly species can be found on the British Dragonfly Society website.

This citizen science survey of London’s dragonflies and damselflies will be hosted by the wildlife record centre Greenspace Information for Greater London (GiGL). 

 

Not sure what you've seen?

If you have a photograph of a dragonfly or damselfly and wish to identify the species please email the image to odonata@wildlondon.org.uk or contact us via on Twitter at @WaterForWild. You can also upload photos on the survey page. 

We can also identify dragonflies and damselflies by examining their exuvia. This is a case that is left behind when an adult insect emerges from its pupa, and can be found in vegetation near water. Identification can tricky, but if you send us the exuvia together with your contact details, we should be able to tell you what species it is.

Pack your exuvia carefully (they're fragile, use a small box) and send them to: Water for Wildlife, London Wildlife Trust, Dean Bradley House, 52 Horseferry Road, London, SW1P 2AF