Did you know that the dragonfly is one of the fastest flying insects in the world? The Smithsonian says that, with a speed of 56 kms (35 miles) per hour, it is actually the fastest but other sources say the Horsefly is faster – no wonder I can never escape being bitten by those nasty but beautiful flies! Dragonflies also have amazing manoeuvrability, hovering like helicopters, dive-bombing their prey, and even flying backwards.
For day three of our celebration of dragon and damselflies, let me introduce you to one of these incredibly speedy dive-bombing hoverers, the Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum). As their name suggests they are exceedingly common in England and Wales, though they shy away with the colder climes further north, and, yes, they do dart, particularly when pursuing insects to eat. They can appear quite similar to Ruddy Darters, but those dragonflies have a ‘waisted’ abdomen and black legs whereas the Commons have yellow-striped legs.
My photos are only of males – they are lighter in colour when immature – and show them in very typical positions, perched on logs, fences, twigs, wires and farm gates while they keep an eye out for passing insects. Though they need the water of ponds, canals, lakes, even ditches to lay their eggs in, they can often be seen away from water. They are not territorial so they do, apparently, assemble in quite large numbers, with ‘groups of several hundred in a single field’ having been recorded and ‘lines of insects … seen along the top of field gates’. Oh to see such a sight!