In August 1995, I went to Canada on holiday with my family. We stayed in Ontario, which is absolutely full of lakes. Almost wherever we went we found a lake, and whizzing over those lakes were colourful dragonflies and damselflies. As a 10 year old, I was partly fascinated by them but mainly frightened of them, as some of them were really rather large.
I remained frightened of these curious insects for many years. I’m ashamed to say that I only really overcame this fear when I got back into nature around nine years ago.I suddenly became 100 per cent fascinated with them and as they years went by, I learned more and more about them.
I am now very fortunate to work at RSPB Lakenheath Fen, where there are lots of species of dragonflies and damselflies to enjoy. If you are wondering what the difference is by the way, dragonflies hold their wings out when they rest and damselflies hold their wings up when they rest.
May is usually the month when we start seeing our first dragons and damsels,so here is a bit about them.
The common blue damselfly, pictured here, is a species that tends to start appearing towards the end of May. Like most dragons and damsels, their life cycle is fascinating. It begins when the female lays hundreds of eggs underwater. The female can stay submerged for as long as an hour as she places individual eggs in plant stems. When the eggs hatch, the predatory nymphs live underwater for an incredible amount of time. In southern Britain, this is usually for around a year. However, in northern Britain, they may live in that state for up to four years.
Once they are ready to emerge as adults, the nymphs crawl out of the water and the adults climb out of their protective casing and fly off into the outside world. They leave behind an exoskeleton, called an exuvia, which looks like something out of a Ridley Scott film. The adults then only have two weeks of adult life to feed, attract a mate and in the case of a female, lay as many eggs as possible.
It’s amazing to think that after all of that time underwater, they have such a short window of opportunity to do what they have to do.
Now we have dealt with all of the finer details, why not come and see these amazing insects in action? The reserve is home to 22 species of dragonflies and damselflies that come in all sorts of colours, shapes and sizes. They are best seen on sunny days as they whizz over the reserve pools and perch up sunning themselves on waterside vegetation.
If you bring your children or grandchildren with you, just remind them that although they may look frightening, they are definitely fascinat-ing.
We hope to see you soon.