We’re finishing National Dragonfly Week with a grand flourish … let me introduce you to the royalty of the dragonfly world, the Emperor (Anax imperator) and his female, who, strangely enough, is not called the Empress but rather the female Emperor. I think we need to change that!
At around 78mm (just over 3 inches) long, these are Britain’s biggest dragonflies, twice as large as most damselflies, as you can see in my photo below right (sorry for the poor quality of this one but I wanted to show the size comparison). Though they are usually found around water – canals, lakes, ponds, ditches, slow-moving rivers, I have also seen the males hawking over the wildflower areas and around the trees and shrubs at my local cemetery, where the nearest water source is perhaps a kilometre away as the dragonfly flies.
The males are very territorial and seem to be constantly on the move, flying around the boundaries of their empires, chasing away other intruding males, hunting for food (insects, butterflies, tadpoles) and even eating as they fly. After mating – also on the wing – the female lays her eggs (known as ovipositing, see above right and below) in amongst vegetation in the water. The Emperors and their Empresses can be seen flying from June to August, in southern parts of Britain, though they seem gradually to be extending their empires northwards.