Blue-tailed damselfly Ischnura elegansBlue-tailed damselflies are quite common, and can be seen in flight from April to September, or even early October. They are found in a wide variety of environments, near standing or flowing water and are tolerant of brackish or slightly polluted waterways and can be found feeding in vegetation a long distance away from water. They can live for a number of weeks, but the average survival time is apparently only about 10 days... A short, happy life?
A collection of some of Ireland’s DamselfliesThis is a revision and refreshing of a page from the early days of WildWest.ie . Though we are now in the middle of Winter, perhaps this page will give you a glimpse of summers to come, and a healthier, happier world…
A motley collection of Damselflies from the upper Shannon basin
Damselflies are a beautiful group of Insects that also contains the Dragonflies. This selection of photographs have been collected over the years. Damselflies are very variable, particularly in colour, which makes identification sometimes difficult. Identification is more often based on small features of their structure and anatomy rather than colours. Thus some forms of the Blue-tailed Damselfly don’t always have a blue tail!
Azure DamselflyCoenagrion puellaThis is a very common damselfly, which can be seen on the wing from mid May (depending on the weather) until August. They can occur in large numbers near the edges of lakes and ponds. They don’t have many colour variations, just the male and female form, so are pretty easy to identify, and distinguish from other Irish damselflies.The head, thorax and abdomen in the male is blue and black. They have a characteristic black ‘U’ shaped mark on the second segment of the abdomen. The female (LEFT) has more black on the abdomen, and has either a blue or greenish thorax.
Damselfly Habitats & Ecology…
There are 11 species of Damselfly in Ireland; we illustrate samples of seven species here. Hope to include more this coming year— particularly the very rare Irish Damselfly, Coenagrion lunulatum, which is found in patches across the northern half of Ireland and, locally, in northern and eastern Europe but not in Britain. Of course, there are many colouration phases in the development of some adult damselfly species; we just show a collection of those we managed to spot so far on this webpage… Next season we hope to see perhaps spot other phases of these beautiful insects!The habitats for Damselflies vary from bogs and streams to brackish pools and ditches. Many are found near small quiet ponds, slow flowing rivers and streams or canals with much bordering vegetation. The larvae of Damselflies are aquatic generally for 1-2 years, depending on weather and food supply. They leave the water in early Summer to complete their final moult (shedding their skin) and change to the adult form. While their body is soft, and their wings are drying and stiffening, they are very vulnerable to predators and need plenty of vegetation and shelter.Females may disperse some distance from where they emerged, rambling and feeding around hedges and ditches feeding mostly on smaller insects. Common Blue Damselflies perch on low vegetation and catch their prey on the wing as well as among bushes, reeds and grasses. Immature female Variable Damselflies may be seen well away from water only returning to consort with mature males who spend much time by water feeding on surrounding vegetation. When mating damselflies form a tandem and eventually fly together over calm water where the female then places her eggs on vegetation in the water.
The late female ‘rufescens’ form becomes a more yellow-brown colour, with a brown, ‘tail’.
Large Red damselfly Pyrrhosoma nymphula
Emerald damselflyLestes sponsa
Try and put magnifyer going thru a
This is a lovely species to photograph, as the colour variations are quite striking, though confusing! Keep and eye out for it on sunny days by a pond or waterway near you… As usual, the male and female are quite different but subtly similar. A single completely blue penultimate tail segment is common to all males. Females show a variety of colour changes at different stages of maturity ending up with a mature stage showing no signature blue segment. The image (LEFT) shows the juvenile ‘rufescens’ phase eating a moth. At this stage, the damselfly has a reddish-pink thorax and blue ‘tail’ on segment 8. The mature ‘rufescens’ form (TOP LEFT) loses the blue ring. In later stages, the female can occur in a violet, or greenish form, and the mature female can be blue, or greeny-brown!!
Common Blue DamselflyEnallagma cyathigerum.The Common Blue damselfly is very common, and also shows the deepest blue (cerulean) of all the species of blue damsels. They are very sensitive to pollution though, and, if you find them, they can be a good indicator of a healthy waterway. They often can be found flying over open water, whereas most damselflies will keep closer to water’s edge or vegetation nearby. The deep blue male is a phase and this species also has an immature phase (RIGHT). This immature male is happily eating a Mayfly… They will, over time, develop into the mature blue form. All males have a black ‘Club’ shaped mark on segment 2 of the thorax and, in the blue specimens, have blue and black markings on the abdomen, and all blue segment 7 & 8 of the ‘tail’ as their pigment develops. In immatures the pattern is the same except it is a pale brown/lilac colour.. The coloured stripes on the top of the thorax (antehumeral) are wider in this species than in the similar Azure and Variable damselflies.The females can have variable colours, either blue, like the mature males, or the ‘drab’ form, which is a yellowish or pale biscuit colour. (See image BELOW LEFT) But all Common Blue females have a little spine sticking out below segment 8 of the abdomen.
ABOVE: The ‘drab’ form of the female Common Blue damselfly. Typical Mature maleViolet form of the male Common Blue damselfly
Apart from their amazing colours the Damselflies are exciting and absorbing to watch. Come May or June in peaceful ponds and warm days they will be busy hatching out, feeding and pursuing the opposite sex. There is a touch of ‘the caveman’ about them — dragging their wives away to start the next generation.Here we show 2 species of Damselflies courting and mating; it is a common sight in mid-Summer. (ABOVE) A female is so firmly held by the male Common Blue as they go on a courtship flight. The image (RIGHT) shows another pair mating; this time between a pair of Large Red Damselflies. All this activity is totally dependent on warm weather and a peaceful clean habitat into which the next generation of eggs will be placed by the female.The mating images BELOW clearly demonstrate the amazing acrobatics that these Damselflies go to in pursuit of survival and procreation. Both images show pairs of Damselflies in a tight embrace. The male still holds his ‘intended’ with a firm clasp on the back of her neck. The female — the lower insect in both images — then has the responsibility of collecting sperm from the male in the privacy and security of a sedge or a small twig.The male produces sperm in his abdomen at the end of his tail and, prior to mating, transfers it to the other end of his abdomen near to where it joins the thorax where the female collects the seed to fertilise her eggs. Hence the amazing postures that these species can be seen to adopt in life’s never ending passion to survive.. All these adaptations have evolved for each species and mitigate against the chance of a damselfly mating with another species.
RIGHTThe Emerald is a common damselflyin Ireland.. This adult male with blue eyes and a grey/blue coating on lower thorax and 1st and 2nd adbominal segment. This specimen can be seen resting, or digesting, with its wings held apart in it’s typically horizontal posture on a sedge.
Courtship and Mating
among the Damselflies…
LEFTFirst date.., then the courtship… then reproduction…and then their lives are over!But the next generation develops under water to hatch out in years to come…
LEFT Blue-tailed DamselflyIn both pictures the female is held in a tight embrace by the neck and can be seen reaching her abdomen up to her partner’s 2nd abdominal segment where the male has previously (or concurrently) deposited sperm containing material.The female mating here is the ‘late rufescens’ form referring to her greeny fawn sort of colour. Female Damselflies have many slightly varied colour forms whereas the males seem more constantRIGHTCommon Blue DamselflyCommon Blue female seen here is the drab form. For details about these variants see species description above!
MALE:A stunning small sized Damsel Fly that you can find near pools and ponds and slow flowing water in most parts of the country. It is one of the commonest damselflies in Ireland and is often abundant. Its habitat includes lakes and ponds, slow moving rivers and canals, in acid or alkaline regions. Males have blue and black body, with segments 8 and 9 of the abdomen all blue. and have a distinctive club shaped mark on segment 2 of the abdomen. Immature males are a pale lilac or violet colour.
FEMALEFemales are often brownish and there are variants ranging from lilac to greyish brown. These variable colours makes females sometimes difficult to identify. However, all female Common Blues have a little spine on the underside of Segment 8 of the abdomen (see LEFT) and this distinguishes them from some other blue female damsels. They usually have a Thistle shaped marking on segment 2 of the abdomen, but this is variable... They don't have the two all-blue segment on the abdomen, like the male. A female Common Blue looks dowdy beside its mate especially when they form a courtship train or tandem and fly around attached..
MALEThis is a dainty, common damselfly which is found over a wide range of water bodies, including slowly moving water, but favours quiet ponds with plenty of vegetation. It is sensitive to pollution but can tolerate rich, eutrophic areas. The blue and black-striped male has a U shaped marking on segment 2 and just one all-blue tail on Segment 8. Immature male Azures are lilac or pale violet colour
FEMALE The females can be a little hard to identify; they are predominantly black and have no spine on segment 8 of the abdomen and no all-blue segment.
MALES (LEFT)Two unattached bachelors resting on a Flag leaf.At this time of year they seem to spend a lot of time socialising and rarely seem to be hunting. Perhaps this is done early morning or late evening.
MALEThese damselflies appear much more slender than other 'blue' damselflies. The mature male is pale blue, darker stripes towards end of abdomen, with one all-blue 'tail' segment. They have a mark on segment 2 of the abdomen (nearer the head) which looks like a wine glass with a narrow stem. They are less common than the Azure or Common Blues
FEMALEThe female has two forms (Blue and Dark) and also shares the male’s marking on segment two but not the all-blue Segment 8.FEMALE Blue form, with blue and black rings on the abdomen. (RIGHT)The Dark form, with a mainly black abdomen, has very thin blue rings between segments (which may not be easily seen in the field.).
MALE Blue-tailed males are fairly easy to identify; the females are more difficult. The abdomen is a metallic black colour with a bright blue tail (just one segment). The thorax has blue or green antehumeral stripes
FEMALES: (ABOVE and RIGHT)The females of the Blue-tailed damselfly come in a variety of forms, making it difficult to ascertain which species or form it is, unless you are lucky enough to see a couple in tandem, with the more easily identified male! The females then lay their eggs on floating vegetation and the larvae hatch and spend up to two years as an aquatic form. Then they emerge as a new generation...
RIGHTFemales often remain near water whereas the males are more of a rambling nature, returning just to mate.
The Large Red Damselfly is larger than all the blue damselfly species, and less common. Easy to spot, though, and the only red damselfly occurring in Ireland. It is often found settled on bramble bushes in the sunshine often away from water. They can live for a couple of weeks, but the average lifespan is only 7 days! Look out for them in early Summer of 2021, all being well, and do let us know if you find a haunt for them!Comparing Male and Female Large Reds: (The females are on the Right.)Males are consistent in appearance and are deeper red. Seen from above the Male will appear largely red with some flecks of yellow on the lower thorax. From the side the abdomen looks largely deep red. However, a salient feature is the lower abdomen where the male has even deeper and shinier bands of red above the genitals.Females do not have these so prominently. The females are also more orangey red and introduce more of the yellow colour, found on the thorax, in between segments. (See supplementary notes to each Image.)MALE: (BELOW)This image is a male; they have a predominantly red abdomen, with black on the 7th to 9th segments. The colour of the male is beautiful — dark polished red with some black on the abdomen and a small amount of yellow on the thorax. But there is a clear marking on either side of the back of the thorax (the ‘antehumeral stripe’) that is red in the male BUT yellow in the females (RIGHT) It is quite a striking if seen close up! Near the tip of each wing there are black diamond shaped spots. This damselfly is a work of art, and being the sole red Damselfly in Ireland, and being quite scarce, all makes sighting of this insect very rewarding, even more rewarding if you can get close enough to appreciate its beautiful markings.
fulvipes FEMALEwith no red on tail, no rings around lower segment, and black strips only on top of lower segments with only a narrow medial black line up the rest of the back.
intermedia FEMALEwith orangey tail, with narrow black and yellow rings between segments black bands on lower segments with only a narrow medial black line up the rest of the back.
LEFT: Banded Demoiselle, female. They are a metallic green/bronze colour, with no smudge on their yellowish wings — and just as beautiful as the male!
The Banded Demoiselle, Calopteryx splendens is one of two stunning species of damselfly which are larger than other damselfly species found in Ireland. Also, unlike the other damselflies, they are able to lay their eggs in quietly flowing water. These Banded Demoiselles were seen and photographed on a bright June day on the banks of the Boyle Canal, in Co. Roscommon. They are very sensitive to pollution, so their appearance in good numbers by the canal (June 2017) was a good sign. We must remember to check them out again in 2021?
Banded demoiselleCalopteryx splendens
LEFTMale Banded demoiselle, with metallic green sheen on body, and conspicuous dark smudge on wings.The males can be a striking metallic green or blue colour, which can quickly change from one to the other, depending on the light conditions…See the two images, RIGHT. In the upper one the damselfly appears green (cloud was covering the sun) and in the lower one (taken 30 seconds later as the sun came out) it now has a blue sheen!
BELOW: There is a conspicuous large dark 'smudge' on the semi transparent wings of the male Banded Demoiselle. This is one of the differences between this species and the other demoiselle found in IrelandThe Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) has wings that are uniformly dark — looking black from afar. We have never seen that species here in the west or north west, though we used to see it in good numbers in west Cork many years ago. It is, apparently, a more southerly species, found below an imaginary line from Dublin to Galway.
A striking colour
‘change’ . Notice the
shadow from the sun
in lower picture…
What a poser!These two pictures of a female are not the same images though they were taken at the same time and probably the same insect.The image ABOVE more clearly represents the head and thorax and the picture RIGHT shows the whole animal.The way the stem is clasped in both images, and the position of the feet and the angle of the body is the same! It must be an instinctive skill repeated all the time to allow a good look around her territory?
These Demoiselles come out to play in warm and calm conditions. From afar they can be detected by their bouncing type of flight somewhat different from both Damselflies and Dragonflies.In trying to capture them we were surprised by their changing colour.These images are of the same single male and the colour change simply reflected rapidly changing weather from sunshine to cloudy. We checked camera white balance and, even allowing for this, this species does seem to appear different and its hard to describe them as either blue or green.
Photographing this Species.Like all of Odonata (Damselflies) these are fast moving and unpredictable insects, only rarely pausing to rest in a location convenient for the photographer. A long lens will bridge the gap between specimen and hunter! But a fixed focus lens is clearer and faster than a zoom with much less distortion and artifacts. We recommend a macro lens of 85 to 105mm such as the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8. The 90mm range provides 1:1 images at a reasonable distance and combined with a 24MP camera with fast accurate focus will leave nothing to chance!
Female Blue-tailed damselfly, early ‘rufescens stage
FEMALE (ABOVE and BELOW)In the female, there are three colour forms with varying amounts of black on the body and red or yellow on the thorax. Examples of these differences are shown in theres two images. (A ‘black female’ is shown in the courtship section at the bottom of this page!)