Common darter Sympetrum striolatum pair in tandem flight Azure damsels Coenagrion puella in mating "wheel".
Some dragonflies and damselflies deposit their eggs by dipping the tip of the abdomen underwater and placing the eggs on water plants. Others flick their eggs into the water while in flight. The eggs usually hatch within a few weeks and the nymphal stage will overwinter. Others lay the eggs on waterside vegetation or structures. Some, however, like the southern hawker and common darter overwinter in the egg stage. The nymphal stages last up to two years depending on the species.
When the nymphal stages have been completed, the fully developed nymphs emerge from the water and climb up the stems of nearby plants. The nymphal skin splits down the back, allowing the adult to emerge and expand its wings. Empty nymphal skins are known as exuviae. Newly emerged adults often have drab colours and it may take several days before the bright colours typical of many dragonflies and damselflies develop. Newly emerged adults will feed for about a week or so before mating. During that time, dragonflies in particular will often roam away from likely breeding places.
Role of dragonflies and damselflies in gardens
Damselflies and dragonflies prey on insects and other small animals during both their nymphal and adult stages. Due to their size and colour, the adult insects are very enjoyable to watch as they patrol a pond in search of prey or a mate.
Encouraging dragonflies and damselflies in the garden
The best action you can take is to create one or more ponds
in your garden. Odonata are not very exacting in their requirements, but larger ponds are likely to be more effective. It's important to have surface and emergent vegetation for egg-laying, and for mature larvae to climb out and emerge as adults. While some species of dragonflies live most of their adult life on the wing, many others need taller vegetation on which they can perch while waiting for food or mates.
Even gardens without ponds will be visited by dragonflies in particular, searching for flying insect food. They feed on small flies, mosquitoes and midges, butterflies and moths and other Odonata. This means that a garden which supports and attracts good numbers of flying insects will be a good resource for these attractive insects
Other sources of information
Natural England leaflet
on dragonflies and damselflies
Smallshire, D and Swash, A (2018) Britain's Dragonflies: A Field Guide to the Damselflies and Dragonflies of Great Britain and Ireland. Wild Guides
Brooks, S., Cham, S. and Lewington, R. (2018) Field Guide to the dragonflies and damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland. Bloomsbury Wildlife Guides
Cham, S. (2012) Field Guide to the larvae and exuviae of British Dragonflies - Dragonflies (Anisoptera) and Damselflies (Zygoptera). British Dragonfly Society
Corbet, P. & Brooks, S. (2008) Dragonflies Collins New Naturalist series no 106. Harper Collins
Page text drafted by Andrew Halstead, reviewed by Andrew Salisbury, compiled by Steve Head