CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Hertfordshire Life today CLICK HERE

Ten things you might not know about dragonflies

PUBLISHED: 20:31 12 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:07 20 February 2013

Ruddy darter

Ruddy darter

The Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust helps you learn more about the beautiful and elegant dragonfly

The Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust helps you learn more about the beautiful and elegant dragonfly

The damselfly confusion

Dragonflies belong to the insect order Odonata meaning toothed jaws. Within this there are two sub-orders, Anisoptera (dragonflies) and Zygoptera (damselflies) so, damselflies are technically dragonflies.


Dragonflies have a sharply serrated, extendable lower jaw (labium) which can shoot out and grab prey in a split second.

Sting in the tail?

Sometimes dragonflies seem to curve their tails down as if they are trying to sting, but that is a reflex action. Dragonflies cant sting you. That wicked looking stinger tail is for laying eggs.

Ancient history

Dragonflies have been around since before the dinosaurs. The biggest dragonfly in the world today has a wingspan of around 20cm (7 and a half inches) but this is nothing compared to prehistoric species. Fossil records show an individual with a wingspan of 75cm, nearly two-and-a-half feet.

Autumn jewels

It varies between species, but dragonflies fly from late spring onwards, with peak flying time in the late summer months. You might wonder why were talking about them in October in fact many will still be flying this month, and sometimes into November if it is warm. These fearsome aerial predators provide a splash of colour at times when wildflowers and butterflies may be winding down. And for the birdwatchers who hang up their binoculars before the big migration events of autumn, they provide another burst of wildlife watching activity to rival any bird flocks. The Dragonfly Trail at Amwell Nature Reserve is a good place to spot them look out for common darters.

Short adulthood

Larvae can take anything from two to three months to five years to develop. But despite their showy and aggressive nature, the adult stage of these animals life cycles lasts a mere fortnight or so; a brief flight of glory before the start of the next generation.

Big appetites

Dragonflies are voracious predators and in the underwater larval stage will eat other insect larvae, crustaceans, worms, snails, leeches, tadpoles and even small fish. During its time as a nymph, the dragonfly catches and eats live prey at every opportunity, moulting a further five to 14 times until it is fully grown.

Sun worshippers

Adult dragonflies are most active between mid-morning and mid-afternoon, when temperatures are highest. In Britain, flight is generally restricted to sunny weather. They are some of the fastest insects in the world!

How many species are there?

There are 17 species of damselfly and 23 resident species of dragonfly in the UK. In Hertfordshire we have 19 species in total all 19 have been recorded at Amwell Nature Reserve. Kings Meads Nature Reserve near Ware has 18, while 16 different species have been recorded at Fir and Pond Woods Nature Reserve near Potters Bar. A handful of other species occasionally turn up on our shores from continental Europe.

How do you tell the difference?

With some exceptions, damselflies generally rest with wings folded, whereas the stockier, more robust dragonflies rest with wings spread outwards.

Species you are likely to see in Hertfordshire

Banded Demoiselle
Emerald Damselfly
White-legged Damselfly
Large Red Damselfly
Red-eyed Damselfly
Small Red-eyed Damselfly
Azure Damselfly
Common Blue Damselfly
Blue-tailed Damselfly
Migrant Hawker
Southern Hawker
Brown Hawker
Emperor Dragonfly
Hairy Dragonfly
Four-spotted Chaser
Broad-bodied Chaser
Black-tailed Skimmer
Common Darter
Ruddy Darter


More from Out & About

Yesterday, 10:28

It’s a great tradition, but where to go? Countryside Management Service projects officer Emily Clowry picks five of the best Boxing Day rambles in Herts

Read more
Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Hertfordshire’s churches are storehouses of history, yet they also attract legends. Mia Jankowicz follows the mysterious trail

Read more
December 2018
Monday, December 3, 2018

Clear your head during the colder months with a walk around the beautiful and varied Hertfordshire countryside. We have gathered eight spots that make stunning walks in the winter

Read more
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

From Aldbury to Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire has a plethora of pretty villages. We have picked just 10 that you should visit

Read more
Friday, November 16, 2018

Christmas isn’t complete without a trip to a festive fair. From German-style food stalls to vintage fetes, Hertfordshire’s Christmas markets have it all

Read more
Wednesday, October 31, 2018

We quiz author Kevin Exley about his new book that takes the reader on the trail of fascinating stories, new and old, around Berkhamsted

Read more
October 2018
Monday, October 29, 2018

Hertfordshire is a county with a vast, fascinating and sometimes dark and bloody history that has reportedly lead to more than a few angry ghosts sticking around to wreak havoc and take revenge on the living. We have gathered 10 of the most haunted places in the county

Read more
Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Make the most out of autumn with these eight walking routes that take in a variety of Hertfordshire’s terrains and - most importantly – have a cosy pub along the way

Read more
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

We've selected a variety of spooky activities in the county that are sure to delight the kids

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust’s Charlotte Hussey explores the fascinating world of bats and new projects in the county to help conserve these remarkable creatures

Read more
October 2018

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search