Dragonfly and damselfly spotting in the National Park

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The diversity of habitats and wildlife in the National Park creates its special magic, and is key to its environmental importance. Without clean and abundant water these habitats wouldn’t exist. Improving water quality in the Broads has been key to encouraging rare creatures which live here, like the Norfolk hawker dragonfly and the swallowtail butterfly - both found nowhere else in this country.

Dragonflies & damselflies

The Broads Authority logo is a dragonfly for a good reason. Six rivers and over 60 broads (shallow lakes) and other areas of open water, woodland and grazing marsh all provide different habitats and support rare wildlife with something in common - they all love wetlands.

Identifying dragonflies

Four-spotted chaser dragonfly
Four-spotted chaser dragonfly © Jackie Dent

You may have spotted some of these beauties darting about the water. Did they stay still for long enough to take a closer look?

Download our handy guide to the 13 species of Dragonflies and Damselflies found in and around the National Park to help you tell dragonflies from damselflies (PDF).

Did you know?

  • Most damselflies are much smaller than dragonflies.
  • Dragonflies rest with wings open, the closely related damselflies rest with wings closed or partially closed.
  • Dragonflies’ huge eyes take up most of their heads, whilst damselflies have much smaller eyes at each end of their heads.
  • Damselflies flight is weak and fluttery compared to a dragonfly’s.
  • Dragonflies will, however, devour anything smaller than themselves - gnats, greenfly, mosquitoes, butterflies or smaller dragonflies. This is the key to their enduring success - dragonflies were around on earth long before mammals, birds or even dinosaurs.
  • Traditional names for them were horse-stingers and devil’s darning needles, but in fact they have no sting and will not attack humans.

Norfolk Hawker

Norfolk hawker dragonfly
Norfolk hawker dragonfly © Jackie Dent

One of our largest and rarest dragonflies is the Norfolk hawker. In Britain it has always been scarce, although at the beginning of the 20th century it is thought that the Broads supported thriving populations. Since the early 1980s habitats have been restored, grazing marshes have been protected and water quality has improved. The Norfolk hawker has spread steadily, re-colonising former sites and currently it is most often found in the fens and grazing marshes of the Broads. They like slow-flowing dykes and ditches where water soldier plants grow.

Banded demoiselle damselfly

Banded demoiselle damselfly
Banded demoiselle damselfly © Jackie Dent

The Banded demoiselle damselfly is a large metallic damselfly with fluttering, butterfly-like wings. They’re around 4.5cm long and can be spotted between May – Sep.

Males have a metallic blue body with dark blue-black spots across outer parts of the wings. Females have a metallic green body with translucent pale green wings. Look out for them on warm, sunny days.

Where to spot them

Look out for them on warm, sunny days. You may spot Norfolk Hawkers and other dragonflies at NWT Hickling Broad, RSPB's Strumpshaw Fen Nature Reserve, Wheatfen Nature Reserve and Crome's Broad within How Hill Nature Reserve. You’ll only spot Norfolk hawkers between May and mid to late July.

Encouraging dragonflies & damselflies

Azure damselfly
Azure damselfly © Jackie Dent

Dragonfly eggs are laid into open water, plant material or organic debris and they hatch into aquatic larvae after a few weeks or months. The larval stage lasts from a few months to seven years, depending on species. Larvae feed on small animals, even tadpoles and small fish, and when fully grown they crawl out of the water and up the stem of a plant, usually at night. The casing of the larva splits open and the dragonfly pulls itself out, pumps up its wings and sits while these dry and harden. As a flying insect most dragonflies live for between three to eight weeks.

For further information see the British Dragonfly Society

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