Dragonflies and Damselflies



Dragonflies and damselflies are insects belonging to the order Odonata, which means 'toothed jaws'. Typically they have large eyes, two pairs of wings and are very mobile aerial hunters of other insects. They all breed in water though different species have preferences regarding still or running water, the size of water body, vegetation, etc. Their larvae live and develop in water and are ferocious predators of midge larvae and small invertebrates. Some species take up to 4 years to develop before climbing up waterside vegetation to metamorphosise into the beautiful adults we are familiar with.

There are around 5,300 species worldwide but only about 120 in Europe and just 38 breed in Britain. The number of species in Leicestershire and Rutland changes over time but is around 26. A few species used to breed in our area but no longer do so. On the other hand, one or two species are expanding and have begun to breed here in recent years, such as the Small Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas). A few species are strong flyers and can migrate over large distances. See the checklist below for a full description of all the species found in Leicestershire and Rutland.


In VC55 the County Recorder for dragonflies and damselflies is Ian Merrill. 
As with all records, any submissions you make to NatureSpot will be automatically forwarded to both local and national recording schemes.

ID Tips

Most dragonflies and damselflies can be identified in the field, particularly if close-focus binoculars are used. Virtually all can be identified from a decent photograph, particular one that shows the colours and patterns on the abdominal segments.

If you need ID help, post a photo on the Facebook page below or on the NatureSpot Forum.

Leicestershire and Rutland resources

Checklist and status of Leicestershire and Rutland Odonata 2020 (large file, may take a few seconds to open)

Leicestershire & Rutland Dragonflies Facebook page


There are sufficient visible differences between species that keys are generally not needed to identify species in this group. The field guides and resources described below provide excellent drawings and images that enable identification from careful observation. Nymphs are more similar and often require a good lens or microscope to observe the relevant features but can still generally be identified using a relevant guide.

Other useful websites, publications and resources


British Dragonfly Society - excellent images of all UK species.

NatureSpot Videos:


Britain's Dragonflies: A Field Guide to the Damselflies and Dragonflies of Britain and Ireland by Dave Smallshire and Andy Swash (Wild Guide). This photographic guide contains information on biology, habitats and the identification of both adults and larvae. All fifty-six species on the current British list are covered with photos of all colour forms, plus seven possible vagrant species. There are full colour plates throughout and individual species accounts include flight times, maps and key ID points highlighted in red, Although mainly photographic, there are some useful pages showing the key features of similar species in the early part of the book. It also contains detailed, easy-to-use identification charts for adults and larvae.

Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland by Steve Brooks (BWP).The revised edition of this guide covers 57 of the resident and migrant species on the British list, including recent additions. As above, there are sections on biology, habitats, larval identification and distribution. There are also the usual individual species accounts with colour illustrations by Richard Lewington, showing top and side views of adults, with enlargements of key features.  This also includes a larval key.

Field Guide to the larvae and exuviae of British Dragonflies, Damselflies (Zygoptera) and Dragonflies (Anisoptera) by Steve Cham. A practical approach to identification of these important life stages without the need for keys. The book contains high quality colour photographs showing all the key distinguishing features of the larvae of all species that occur in Great Britain and Ireland.

Field Guide to the Dragonflies of Britain and Europe by Klaas-Douwe B Dijkstra and illustrated by Richard Lewington (British Wildlife Publishing).A comprehensive field guide to the dragonflies and damselflies of Britain and Europe.  It has almost 1000 illustrations and photos showing top and side views as well as important features.  Includes Europe, North-western Africa and western Turkey.


iRecord Dragonfly - www.brc.ac.uk/app/irecord-dragonflies - A web-based app produced by CEH / BRC in collaboration with BDS. This will include photos of resident and regular migrant species and recording facility for BDS.

Dragonflies & Damselflies of Britain & Ireland by BirdGuides Ltd (2011), Based on the book ‘Britain’s Dragonflies’.  An app for iPhone and iPad.  £9.99.  Available from the iTunes store. A comprehensive field guide to the identification of all 46 dragonfly and damselfly species that have been recorded in Britain and Ireland. It aims to help the dragonfly-watcher – beginner or expert – to identify any species they encounter.

If you know of other websites or books that you would recommend, do let us know: info@naturespot.org.uk