The aerial dance of dragonflies is one of nature’s great spectacles. With kaleidoscopic colors, lightning fast flight and aerial acrobatics, dragonflies enthrall all who watch them. Britain is home to over 50 species of these intriguing insects, with some of the most beautiful and eye-catching on display in our lakes, rivers and wetlands. This guide profiles 20 of the most commonly seen dragonfly species across the UK. From dainty damselflies to huge hawkers, learn about their vibrant colors, complex life cycles and preferred habitats. Discover this diverse array of Britain’s most fascinating wetland flyers.
|1. Banded Demoiselle||Males have bright blue bodies with black bands, females are dull yellow-brown. Seen flying low over woodland streams and rivers.||Woodland streams and rivers|
|2. Blue-tailed Damselfly||Males have a bright blue abdomen, females are yellow-grey. Rest on vegetation near ponds, lakes and slow rivers.||Ponds, lakes, slow rivers|
|3. Emperor Dragonfly||Largest species, males are boldly blue-green, females yellow-brown. Seen patrolling over lakes and rivers.||Lakes, ponds, rivers|
|4. Golden-ringed Dragonfly||Males have yellow rings, females are yellow-green. Fly rapidly over rivers and streams.||Rivers, streams, canals|
|5. Broad-bodied Chaser||Males metallic blue-green, females yellow-brown. Fly low over ponds, lakes and slow rivers.||Ponds, lakes, slow rivers|
|6. Four-spotted Chaser||Males metallic with yellow spots, females yellow-brown. Hawking over ponds, marshes and streams.||Ponds, marshes, streams|
|7. Black-tailed Skimmer||Bright green bodies and black tails, females yellowish. Glide over lakes, ponds and slow streams.||Lakes, ponds, slow streams|
|8. Brown Hawker||Males have metallic blue-violet markings, females dull brown. Fly low over streams, rivers, lakes.||Streams, rivers, lakes, reed beds|
|9. Common Darter||Males vivid green, females yellow-brown. Fly swiftly over ponds, lakes, streams, canals.||Ponds, lakes, streams, pools, canals|
|10. Downy Emerald||Males emerald green with grey down, females yellow-brown. Fly over upland streams and lakes.||Woodland streams, upland lakes|
|11. Black Darter||Entirely black bodies. Fly swiftly over slow streams, canals and lakes.||Slow streams, rivers, ponds, lakes|
|12. Migrant Hawker||Males metallic green, blue-black females. Chase insects over woodland streams.||Woodland streams, rivers, lakes, reservoirs|
|13. Yellow-legged Dragonfly||Males emerald/blue striped, females yellow with black stripes.||Slow streams, rivers, ponds, lakes|
|14. Ruddy Darter||Red-brown bodies. Fly over slow streams, canals, ponds, lakes.||Slow streams, canals, ponds, lakes|
|15. Southern Hawker||Large with emerald/black stripes. Patrol rivers, streams, lakes.||Rivers, streams, lakes|
|16. Red-eyed Damselfly||Males blue with red eyes, females yellow-green. Near standing water.||Ponds, lakes, pools, marshes|
|17. Azure Damselfly||Males azure blue, females yellow-green. Near lakes, ponds, marshes.||Lakes, ponds, marshes, slow streams|
|18. Small Red Damselfly||Males red, females yellow-brown. Near ponds, lakes, marshes.||Ponds, lakes, marshes|
|19. Emerald Damselfly||Males emerald, females yellow-green. Near ponds, lakes, slow rivers.||Ponds, lakes, slow rivers|
|20. White-legged Damselfly||Pale bodies with white legs. Near lake, pond and river edges.||Lakes, ponds, rivers|
1. Banded Demoiselle
The Banded Demoiselle is one of the most commonly seen dragonflies in the UK. The males have distinctive bright blue bodies with black bands along the abdomen. Females are a dull yellow-brown colour. Banded Demoiselles are often seen flying low over streams and rivers in woodland areas. They can be seen from May until September. The larvae live underwater in streams and rivers, clinging to stones and vegetation. They breathe through gills and are able to crawl on land when they emerge from the water to undergo transformation into adult dragonflies.
2. Blue-tailed Damselfly
Blue-tailed Damselflies are one of the most widespread and abundant damselfly species found across the UK. Males have a bright blue abdomen with black markings. Females have a yellow-grey body. They are commonly seen resting on vegetation near ponds, lakes and slow-moving rivers. The larvae live submerged in the water, eating small insects, larvae and crustaceans. Adults are active from May until September. They have delicate wings and are agile fliers, known for their hovering and gliding behavior close to vegetation.
3. Emperor Dragonfly
The Emperor Dragonfly is the largest dragonfly species found in the UK. Males can have a wingspan of up to 10cm. They are boldly colored with a long black body and bright blue-green eyes. Females are yellow-brown in color. Emperor Dragonflies are frequently seen patrolling over lakes, ponds and rivers. The larvae live submerged in calm, weedy freshwater for 2-4 years before emerging to fly as adults from May until September. Larvae are fierce predators, grasping other aquatic insect larvae and small fish in their big mandibles. Adults also hunt smaller flying insects and occasionally small pollinating bees.
4. Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Golden-ringed Dragonflies are one of the largest and most beautiful dragonfly species in Britain. Males have a long black body with yellow markings, including distinctive yellow rings around each segment. Females are yellow-green in color. They are usually seen flying rapidly over rivers, streams and canals where the larvae develop in the water. Golden-ringed Dragonflies are on the wing from June until September. Larvae live for 2-3 years in streams and rivers, grasping prey with their strong jaws before emerging from the water as adult dragonflies.
5. Broad-bodied Chaser
Broad-bodied Chasers have broad-bodied abdomens that rapidly narrow towards the tail end. Males are a vivid metallic blue-green color while females are yellow-brown. They are often encountered flying low over the surface of ponds, lakes and slow-flowing rivers hunting for smaller flying insects from June until September. Larvae develop underwater in still freshwater for 2 years before metamorphosing. Broad-bodied Chasers prefer habitats with lush marginal and aquatic vegetation. Adults fly swiftly and may be seen patrolling over favored patches of wetland habitat.
6. Four-spotted Chaser
Four-spotted Chasers have black bodies with distinctive bright yellow spots – two large spots near the tip of the abdomen. Males are metallic bluish-green while females are yellow-brown colored. They are frequently seen hawking for insects over ponds, lakes, marshes and slow streams during their flight period from June through September. Larvae develop underwater for 2 years in a variety of freshwater habitats including ponds, lakes, pools, ditches and canals. Four-spotted Chasers often perch prominently on plants, fences and paths near their larval habitat.
7. Black-tailed Skimmer
Black-tailed Skimmers are medium-sized dragonflies with bright metallic green bodies and distinctively black tails. Females are yellowish in color. They are commonly seen flying in a skimming or gliding fashion low over the surface of lakes, ponds, reservoirs and slow streams hunting for smaller flying insects and midges. Larvae develop underwater for 2 years in a variety of aquatic habitats before emerging to fly from June until September. Adults are agile fliers, known to land prominently on foliage and ground near their larval habitat.
8. Brown Hawker
Brown Hawks are a medium-sized brown dragonfly with black markings. Males have striking shades of blue, violet and green on their thorax. Females are dull yellow-brown. From June through September they can often be seen perched prominently or flying quickly and low over streams, rivers, lakes and reed beds hunting smaller insects on the wing. Larvae develop underwater for 2-3 years in a variety of standing freshwater habitats including ponds, lakes and large pools. Brown Hawks are common and widespread across much of England, Wales and southern Scotland.
9. Common Darter
Common Darter dragonflies are small and abundant across most of the UK. Males are vivid metallic green while females are yellowish brown. They are frequently encountered flying low and swiftly over ponds, lakes margins, slow streams and canals from May until September hunting smaller flying insects. Larvae develop underwater for 1-2 years clinging to aquatic plants in ponds, lakes, streams, pools and ditches feeding on small crustaceans and insects. Common Darter dragonflies are commonly seen perching on reeds, rushes and other marginal vegetation near their freshwater habitat.
10. Downy Emerald
Downy Emeralds are delicately patterned medium-sized dragonflies. Males have emerald green thoraxes and blue-green abdomens covered in soft gray down. Females are yellow-brown. They can be seen from May until September flying swiftly and low over woodland streams and lakes hunting smaller insects. Larvae develop underwater for 2 years clinging to stones in upland streams and lakes. Downy Emeralds prefer shady forests and moorland habitats with clear, unpolluted running water. Males are often seen chasing other Downy Emeralds in territorial flight displays along stream corridors.
11. Black Darter
Black Darter dragonflies are slightly larger than Common Darters with entirely black bodies and wings. Females can have some brown color on their abdomen. They are frequently encountered flying swiftly over the surfaces of slow streams, canals and lakes from April until October catching smaller insects in flight. Larvae develop underwater for around 2 years clinging to stones and vegetation in slow streams, rivers, ponds and lakes. Black Darter dragonflies are widespread and often seen perching prominently near their freshwater habitat.
12. Migrant Hawker
Migrant Hawkers are fast-flying, medium-sized hawker dragonflies. Males have striking metallic green thoraxes and blue-black abdomens. Females are yellow-brown. They fly from late June until September and are energetic hunters seen chasing other insects swiftly over woodland streams, rivers, lakes and reservoirs. Larvae develop underwater for 1-3 years in freely flowing rivers and streams, clinging to stones with hooked claws. Migrant Hawkers migrate south in late summer and are able to disperse long distances following river systems and coastlines.
13. Yellow-legged Dragonfly
Yellow-legged Dragonflies are medium to large-sized dragonflies with bright yellow legs. Males have emerald green thoraxes and blueish-green striped abdomens. Females are yellow with black markings. They are widespread across southern England and fly from late May to late September along slow streams, rivers, ponds and lakes hunting smaller insects. Larvae live underwater for 2-4 years clinging to stones, rocks and plant matter. Yellow-legged Dragonflies characteristically perch with legs widespread and wings fully outstretched to dry.
14. Ruddy Darter
Ruddy Darter dragonflies have stocky red-brown bodies and wings. Males sometimes have a hint of bluish tint while females can be more golden-brown. They fly from late May until September over slow streams, canals, ponds and lakes preying on smaller flying insects. Larvae develop underwater clinging to vegetation for 1-2 years in a variety of wetland habitats. Ruddy Darter dragonflies are an abundant and widespread species across the UK often seen perched on reeds, rushes and marginal lakeside foliage.
15. Southern Hawker
Southern Hawkers are large, fast-flying dragonflies with striking green and black coloration. Males have an emerald green thorax and abdomen striped with narrow black bands. Females are yellow with black stripes. They fly foraging along larger rivers, streams and lakes from late June until October. Larvae live underwater for 2-4 years clinging to stones in well-flowing stretches of rivers and streams. Southern Hawkers give the appearance of intensely patrolling small territories along watercourses in pursuit of flying prey.
16. Red-eyed Damselfly
Red-eyed Damselflies have slender bodies and wings. Males have bright blue abdominal segments and red/orange eyes. Females are yellowish-green. They are found near standing freshwater from May until September resting on vegetation and flying slowly close to the water hunting other small insects. Larvae cling to water plants underwater in ponds, lakes, pools and marshes for up to 2 years developing gills for breathing. Red-eyed Damselflies often perch side by side and are seen in groups near aquatic plants.
17. Azure Damselfly
Azure Damselflies are small, elegantly patterned damselflies. Males have a pruinose azure blue body while females are yellowish-green. They can be seen flying slowly over and hovering close to marginally vegetation along lakes, ponds, marshes and slow streams between May and September. Larvae cling to plants and stems underwater for up to 2 years breathing through modified external gills. Azure Damselflies are abundant and frequently found in boggy or marshy areas with abundant emergent plants and marginal vegetation.
18. Small Red Damselfly
Small Red Damselflies are delicate insects with males having vivid red bodies and females being yellow-brown in color. They can be seen from May until September flying slowly and settling near ponds, lakes, marshes and slower streams. Larvae live submerged for up to 2 years clinging to aquatic plants and breathing through external gills. Small Red Damselflies prefer areas with lush ponds, pools and marshy vegetation. They often perch with wings closed on reeds, Juncus shoots and lily pads near their larval habitat.
19. Emerald Damselfly
Emerald Damselflies are attractively patterned damselflies with pruinose emerald blues and metallic greens. Males have stunning bright emerald thoraxes while females are yellow-green. They are common and widespread from May until September near ponds, lakes and slow rivers where they hunt and breed. Larvae cling to aquatic plants and stems with external breathing gills for up to 2 years. Emerald Damselflies are agile fliers often seen perched or flying low amongst marginal reeds, rushes and waterside foliage.
20. White-legged Damselfly
White-legged Damselflies have pale bodies and conspicuous white legs. Males have iridescent blue-green abdominal segments and white legs. Females are yellowish-green. They fly with a skipping motion and settle from June to September near lake, pond and river edges. Larvae cling to submerged vegetation and stones breathing through external gills for up to 2 years. White-legged Damselflies prefer areas with abundant emergent plants along slow streams and ponds. They often perch parallel to water reeds and foliage near their freshwater habitat.