Introduction to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Assynt

March 31st 2010

1.  Introduction.  Dragonflies (Odonata) are an ancient order of insects, dating back at least to the Carboniferous period, 250 million years ago.  They have a three-stage life-history; adults, eggs and larvae (or nymphs) .  The adults are strong fliers, preying on smaller insects caught in flight.  The eggs are laid in water or on/in plants, by the females, often flying in tandem with the males. The larvae are aquatic predators, growing via a series of moults, often spending several years in this stage.  When mature, the larvae emerge from the water, climb nearby vegetation, and shed their last larval skins (exuvia) and emerge as adults.  At first their colours are somewhat muted (teneral), but soon mature; males and females are often differently coloured, the females usually less gaudy.

Dragonflies are of two types, the usually smaller damselflies, with wings that are folded back along the body at rest, and the more robust dragonflies proper, with wings fixed and spread at rest.  The latter include emperors, hawkers, golden-ringed, emeralds, chasers and darters.

Some 50 species of dragonflies are native to the British Isles, with additions to the list, from the Continent, on an almost annual basis (see regular reports in British Wildlife for the current state of play).  Of these, 18 species have been recorded from the Highland area, and 10 of these from Assynt.

2.  Dragonflies found in Assynt.  Assynt has some 660 lochs and lochans and several hundred kilometres of rivers and burns; these support populations of the following species.

For more information, including details of recognition, see section 4.  The notes on distribution relate to Assynt only.  The very brief descriptions are of the males only.  Habitats given are only an indication; the more powerful species may be seen well away far from their breeding sites.  Months given indicate the main flight periods, individuals may occur a month or more outside these, according to the season.

Damselflies

Emerald Lestes sponsa: widespread but patchy; slender, metallic green; well-vegetated standing water, including loch margins; June-July.

Large Red Damselfly Pyrrhosoma nymphula: widespread and common;  red and black; standing or slow-moving water; May-July.

Common Blue Damselfly Enallagma cyathigerum: widespread and common; blue with black bands; standing water; June-August.

Blue-tailed Damselfly Ischnura elegans: widespread, but local, perhaps more common nearer the coast; black with a blue ‘tail’; June-August.

Dragonflies

Azure Hawker Aeshna caerulea; rare, known from only a few places in Assynt; boggy moorland and open birch woodland; blue and black, no yellow markings; June-July.

Common Hawker Aeshna juncea: widespread and common; standing waters; black, blue and yellow;  July-September.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly Cordulegaster boltonii:  widespread; burns, moorland, woodland rides; largest of our native species, black with yellow rings; June- August.

Four-spotted Chaser Libellula quadrimaculata: widespread and common; brown patches at base of wings; moorland bog pools; June-July.

Common Darter Sympetrum striolatum: common and widespread; dark red; lochs, pools and slow-moving burns; July-September.  (Previously known, in the Highland area, as the Highland Darter Sympetrum nigrescens this Dragonfly is now accepted as a dark form of the Common Darter).

Black Darter Sympetrum danae:  widespread; small and black; well-vegetated bog pools; July-August.

The most likely additional species to occur in Assynt is the Southern Hawker Aeshna cyanea, though with climate change others are possible.

3.  Good places to see dragonflies in Assynt.  Any of the tracks and paths that run alongside lochs and rivers are good.  Easily accessible are: Culag Wood Bog (carpark at NC092214); Loch Druim Suardalain, path to Cnocnaneach (carpark at NC107219); Little Assynt, All Abilities Path (carpark at NC172261); alongside the River Traligill (carpark at NC251215); track alongside Oldany River (park at NC098323).  Let us know of other good places you find. 

4.  What to record in Assynt.  Records are still very patchy, especially from more remote parts of the parish.  Nearly all the records of dragonflies from Assynt are of adults.  Records of larvae and/or exuvia would be particularly useful, supported by specimens where appropriate (e.g. of exuvia).

It is worth recording any dragonflies that can be reliably identified (with a supporting photograph if there is any doubt) and localised to at least a 1km square (eg. NC1232), with date, name of observer and any comments on abundance or behaviour.  Lists of species from a single body of water over a season would be very worthwhile.

We are particularly interested in good digital images for this web-page, preferably taken in Assynt.

Send your observations and photographs or any queries relating to Assynt  dragonflies to: Ian Evans, Calltuinn, Nedd, Drumbeg by Lairg, Sutherland, IV27 4NN, 01571 833241; or email: assyntwildlife@gmail.com.

5.  Further information.  The best introduction to local dragonflies is the excellent illustrated leaflet Damselflies & Dragonflies of the Highlands. An identification guide published by Highland Council and obtainable, free of charge, from Ian Evans (see above) or Jonathan Willet, Biodiversity Officer, Highland Council, Glenurquhart Road, Inverness IV3 5NX (01463.702274; jonathan.willet@highland.gov.uk).

For distribution maps for the Highland area please visit scotland.nbnatlas.org

For more information on dragonflies please visit www.british-dragonflies.org.uk

Ian Evans

(February 2010)

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Recent Sightings

Goosander

single female on River Inver opposite Little Assynt Tree Nursery (DAH) (11/12)

Dipper

four birds on River Inver opposite Little Assynt Tree Nursery (DAH). One bird could be seen, and heard, singing. (11/12)

Otter

two animals on the shore beside Church of Scotland, Lochinver (Gwen Richards) (11/12)

Whooper Swan

three birds feeding, Loch an Aigeil (DAH). Photo Gallery - Birds (10/12)

Dipper

single bird on Oldany River (DAH) (10/12)

Long-tailed Tit

6+ birds in trees, Glenleraig (Ian Evans) (09/12)

Sparrowhawk

single bird hunting through trees, Glenleraig (Ian Evans) (09/12)

Glaucous Gull

single 1st-winter bird Balchladich Bay (DAH) (09/12)

Map