Dragonflies might be a little more familiar to us, their robust bodies and recognisable silhouette as they dart around the water. Damselflies are a lot more delicate, with thinner bodies and a more unsure flight. When these insects rest damselflies tend to close their wings against their bodies while the dragonflies keep them open wide. Their eyes are another key difference – dragonfly eyes are enormous and touch at the top of the head like a visor, while damselflies have separate eyes more in keeping with their body size.
The name for these species together is Odonata, and they are closely related. There are 46 species that either regularly breed in Britain or are common migrants from Europe, with a further ten occasional migrants. They come in a huge variety of colours and sizes and will visit all sorts of freshwater habitats. Hampshire and the Island, with their many clean freshwater habitats, are home to a diverse range of Odonata. The New Forest in particular is a haven for these species.
A wildlife pond is essential if you want to see dragonflies in your garden. The larvae of dragon and damselflies live in water, and the lifecycle can take years from egg to adult. The larvae feed on much of the other pond life, and some can even take small fish! You might have seen their discarded skins which they shed as they grow. Eventually, the larvae will sense the days lengthening and the weather warming and will clamber onto the vegetation around the pond to transform into an adult. You might spot them as they warm up and pump blood into their wings to harden them, ready for flight. Species including the emperor dragonfly, common blue damselfly and large red damselfly will all be some of the first to colonise a garden pond.
Two particularly jewel-like species are the demoiselles. Male beautiful demoiselles live up to their name, their bodies are deep emerald green, and their wings are smoky black. Not to be outdone, females are more bronze-green, but also have coloured wings. The banded demoiselle is similar, although the males only have a band of colour on the wings. Both live in rivers and streams, so keep an eye out for these summer stunners next time you visit.