Harry’s advent calendar of insects, day 14: Beautiful Demoiselle

This is the Beautiful Demoiselle, Calopteryx virgo, a kind of damselfly. It is apparently found in Britain, although I’ve only seen its less spectacular but still gorgeous relative, the Banded Demoiselle.

So shiny.

» ‘Blue Damselfly’ is © Annamaria Kaiser and used under a CC by-nc-sa licence. ‘Bosbeekjuffer – Beautiful Demoiselle male 2’ is © Arend Vermazeren and used under a CC by licence.

A palate cleanser

OK, enough with the all the Murdoch-ery. Time for something a bit more wholesome.

Summer isn’t a great time for birding; you can tell when summer is well and truly here because bird bloggers start posting pictures of moths. Moths are like birdwatcher methadone.

So it seemed like a good time of year to check out a dragonfly sanctuary. 23 species have been recorded there — half the British list — although to be honest, there are a fairly limited number I would have any chance of identifying. In the event I only saw a handful of species; some small blue damselflies, plus Banded Demoiselle, Emperor Dragonfly and Brown Hawker. But Banded Demoiselle and Brown Hawker are particularly gorgeous, so it’s always nice to see them. The Brown Hawker has a bronze-brown tint to its wings which looks amazing when it catches the light: like a warm halo around the insect.

And there were lots of butterflies around, too: Peacock, Red Admiral, Comma, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Large Heath, Small Skipper. Nothing very remarkable, but nice to see. The best butterfly was Small Tortoiseshell, a species which used to be common as muck but which is depressingly scarce in the south of England these days.

And lots of flowers. I can’t identify most of them down to the species level, and didn’t try, but for example: loosestrife, willowherb, vetch, yarrow, mallow, bedstraw, deadnettle, teasels and thistles. What fabulous names they have.

The photo, incidentally, is of cinnabar moth caterpillars and soldier beetles on ragwort flowers. One of the beetles is Rhagonycha fulva; the other looks like it has darker wingcases, in which case it’s probably Cantharis rustica. But I’m relying on a pocket guide to the insects of Britain and Western Europe, so anything I say should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Some local insects

Earlier in the season, most of the damselflies were blue ones; now they’re all blue-tailed:

This bit of south London is, slightly unexpectedly, a stronghold for the increasingly rare stag beetle. At this time of year you tend to see them flying overhead in the evening; but the weather has been so miserable that I haven’t really been outside much in the evenings. I did see one crawling across the pavement a couple of days ago, though. This, however, is not that species; it’s the more common lesser stag beetle, which is not nearly as big, and even the males don’t have antlers.

This is a hoverfly. Like most hoverflies, it’s a wasp mimic; they nearly all have black and yellow stripes, but they don’t sting. This is more spectacular than most, though; the large size and brownish colour are its attempt to look like a hornet. I think it does quite a good job, although looking at it closely like this it’s obviously a species of fly. We don’t actually have any hornets around here—I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one in the UK, although they do live here—so I don’t know how effective the mimicry is.

And here’s a holly blue. You can see the abdomen curled around on the ivy; presumably it’s laying eggs. It’s lives on the holly and the ivy, which is very Christmassy of it.

Another damselfly

I didn’t manage to get a shot which was as crisp as I’d like, but for the sake of completeness, here’s a Blue-tailed Damselfly:

Damselflies

It’s remarkable how many different insect species there are around if you go and look, and notice the various colours and sizes instead of just thinking ‘butterfly’ or ‘bumblebee’. Damselflies are the smaller, more delicate relatives of dragonflies. There were at least three species, and possibly four, in the garden today. I got pictures of some of them. This is a Large Red Damselfly:

A Common Blue An Azure Damselfly:

I’ve always assumed this one, which has distinctive grey/silver wings, was a different species, but looking around on Google it may possibly be an alternative colour form of the female Azure:

EDIT: apparently grey wings are typical of newly hatched dragonflies – ‘teneral’ in the jargon – so this is probably a teneral Azure Damselfly.

Pretty, aren’t they.

As well as those, and the Blue tailed Damselfly which I didn’t get a photo of, I’ve also seen at least one other species in the garden in the past – the Red Eyed Damselfly. And that’s without counting the ‘proper’ dragonflies.

Close Menu