Dragonflies & Damselflies: 

On the wing through spring

Spring brings out the darting fairies of the garden – and if our gardens provide the correct habitats, we should be able to see the glistening wings of dragonflies throughout the fresh spring days. A water source is an important requirement to attract them to your garden – and we should be encouraged to do so as they feed on mosquitoes! Out in the wilds, dragonflies depend on habitats such as ponds, rivers and streams, marshes and wetlands, where the larvae can live underwater for as long as 6months to 7 years before taking to the skies as adults.

 

The most important habitat requirements are:

  • Unpolluted water: Dragonflies are fussy about their living requirement, and unpolluted water is crucial.

  • Shelter from wind where they can feed and perch

  • Sunlight, particularly at midday: adult dragonflies need their bodies to heat up before they can fly.

  • Perching sites: many dragonflies are attracted to light coloured rocks with a flat piece on which to land and enjoy the hot sun – to warm their bodies. Place some around the pond edge and in the flowering plants and grasses surrounding it. Driftwood and dead branches in the water, or around the garden will also be well utilised.

  • Warm water: Make sure floating plants do not completely cover the water surface – preferably as little as 30% of the surface should be covered as the larvae which are cold-blooded, require sunlight. Without this heat, they become inactive and stop eating and breeding. By slowing down, they also become easy targets for prey.

  • Plants: grasses and reeds are popular perching sites with dragonflies, so create thick patches of them. The dragonfly larvae (nymphs) live in the water, clinging to submerged vegetation, pond debris, or buried in the mud and plant matter at the bottom of the water source. It is important that you provide all of these breeding requirements. The hatchlings will need to exit the water once hatched, so provide thick reeds and grasses at the water’s edge on which they will climb to reach land.

  • Hunting areas: Dragonflies eat insects, so plant-insect attracting flowering plants close to the water. They will also visit flowers around the garden so plant up a grassland meadow that will fill with insects. Male dragonflies perch on grasses and reeds as they keep a watch for other males invading their territories. Females will fly to a number of territories to find a suitable mate.

  • Suitable pond habitats: the most suitable pond will vary in depth, shallow at the edges and at least 60cm at its deepest spot. This depth is needed for the nymphs to hide away from predators. This of course also allows a wider variety of pond plants which grow at different depths.

  • Food: adults and nymphs are carnivores and mostly eat other flying insects, particularly midges and mosquitoes. They also will take butterflies, moths and smaller dragonflies. The water-living nymphs eat almost any living thing smaller than themselves.

  • Underground plant roots and leaves though are crucial nesting sites. Many dragonflies insert the eggs into the soft stems of plants, and the hatched nymphs will crawl up the stems and out of the water.

  • No poisons: Don’t use any chemicals, fertilisers, herbicides and the less cleaning and interference in the water habitat, the better.