One of the best places to see dragonflies and damselflies in Lincolnshire is Whisby Nature Park. Last year, it was designated a Dragonfly Hotspot by the British Dragonfly Society. There are just a handful of Dragonfly Hotspots in the UK. They are special places, carefully chosen because they support a good variety of dragonfly and damselfly species, are easy to access, and can provide opportunities for local communities to get involved with dragonfly conservation and events. Grahame Hopwood, the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust’s Warden at Whisby Nature Park, said, “We are extremely proud that Whisby Nature Park is receiving this recognition. It’s an important site for a wide range of wildlife and the diversity of dragonflies and damselflies really illustrates this.”
At the height of summer, wetlands are abuzz with the sound of dragonfly wings. These large, strong insects are masters of flight. Dragonflies can move each of their four wings separately. They can fly up, down, forwards, backwards, stop and hover, and make hairpin turns. They are one of the supreme predators of our wetlands, feasting on insects including mosquitoes and midges. Look more closely, and you’ll see a dazzling array of colours from the apple green and bright blue of the emperor dragonfly to the blood red of a ruddy darter.
Damselflies are the smaller cousins of dragonflies. They are also predators of smaller insects but tend to pick insects off vegetation rather than chasing them down in flight. With long, slender bodies, they look more delicate than dragonflies. The easiest way to tell them apart is when they are perched on a plant or fence posts: damselflies hold their wings closed back against the length of their bodies, whereas dragonflies hold their wings out at right angles to their bodies.
The flying insects that we see are the adults, their association with water is because the juvenile stage of their life cycle is spent underwater. Like their parents, the juveniles or nymphs are formidable hunters. They sit tight and wait for their prey, then grab it with their extendable jaws. It’s like a scene from the film Alien and it’s not just their feeding techniques that are alien-like. At the end of the aquatic stage of their lives, the dragonfly crawls out of the water and clings to a plant stem. It’s exoskeleton cracks open releasing the adult dragonfly which crawls out and unfolds its new wings. It has transformed from an underwater terror to a super-efficient flying machine.
This summer, the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust has some special dragonfly events planned at Whisby Nature Park:
Dragonfly Day at Whisby Nature Park – Saturday 9th July 2022, 10am-3pm
Learn about the amazing lifecycles of dragonflies and damselflies, view their amazing nymphs under the microscope and create your own dragonfly using natural materials.
Includes a guided walk at 10am. The walk is free to join but must be booked in advance via the website lincstrust.org.uk
Dipping for Dragonflies at Whisby Education Centre – 27th July 2022
Opportunity for children/families to discover the aquatic dragon and damsel nymphs that live in the lake. Two sessions: 10:30-12:00, 13:00-14:30. £3 per child. Must be booked in advance by contacting the Education Centre on 01522 696926
Introduction to Dragonflies at Whisby Education Centre – 13th August 2022
A beginner’s introduction to Dragonflies and will be led by dragonfly expert Fiona McKenna. £5 per person, booked in advance: via the website lincstrust.org.uk
Fiona McKenna, Conservation Outreach Officer, British Dragonfly Society said, “Whisby Nature Park is a wonderful place for dragonflies. Working together with the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, we hope we can inspire people to find out more about these amazing insects and get involved with their conservation.”
Don’t worry if you can’t make it to one of these events or to Whisby Nature Park, there are very few places where you don’t stand a chance of finding a dragonfly. Several species travel a long way away from water, to feed in gardens, fields and woodland edges. One of the greatest wanderers is the migrant hawker, which you can often find hunting along sheltered hedgerows in August and September.
Photo Credit: Bruce Shortland