What is special about dragonflies and damselflies?

Dragonflies and damselflies are some of our oldest insects whose ancestors flew the earth over 300 million years ago. They are beautiful aerial jewels with stunning colours, fascinating behaviour and majestic powers of flight.

There is extensive folklore about dragonflies dating back many centuries. In many countries they are revered as symbols of strength, regeneration, and pure water; whilst in others they are feared as shamanistic creatures with supernatural powers or symbolise instability and weakness. Dragonflies are actually harmless to humans as they have no sting and will not attack. In fact, as well as being an integral part of wetland ecosystems, they can be of great benefit to us all as unrivalled indicators of the health of aquatic environments.

The size and beauty of dragonflies make them especially valuable subjects for research on insect behaviour and ecology. Dragonflies have aquatic larvae, which generally rely on good quality water. Consequently they can be used to make rapid assessments of water quality and indicate a healthy ecosystem.

Dragonflies are worthy of conservation in their own right, but their requirements of clean water and a mosaic of terrestrial and aquatic habitats mean that, if they are conserved, so are many other organisms. They can be used as flagships for the insect world as a whole.

Top image: Large red damselfly Pyrrhosoma nymphula