Find London's dragonflies and damselflies

Find London's dragonflies and damselflies

Beautiful demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo), River Char, Charmouth, Dorset, England, UK - Guy Edwardes/2020VISION

We are looking for 'Dragonfly Detectives' to 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 attractive and fascinating insects, collectively known as odonata, thrive where the water is clean and are a great indicator species of healthy ecosystems. However, little is known about their distribution across London.

As part of our Water for Wildlife project we are asking Londoners to become Dragonfly Detectives and help us create a map of where they live in the city. If you see a dragonfly or damselfly in your garden, local park, nature reserve, or anywhere else, you can add it to our online database.


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

Ruddy darter

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

Emerald damselfly

Emerald damselfly by Iain Leach

Damselflies are smaller than dragonflies, 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 also have a weak, fluttery flight and tend to swarm near water and bankside vegetation.

Find out more

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

If you have taken a photograph but are not sure which species it is, email the image to contact us via Twitter at @WaterForWild. You can also upload photos directly to 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 we should be able to tell you what species it is. Pack your exuvia carefully and send to Water for Wildlife, London Wildlife Trust, Dean Bradley House, 52 Horseferry Road, London, SW1P 2AF

The Dragonfly Detectives survey is hosted by the wildlife record centre Greenspace Information for Greater London.