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Dragonflies at Wicken Fen
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Moths, butterflies and
dragonflies of Wicken Fen:
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Dragonflies and Damselflies (with the scientific name Odonata) are an ancient and successful type of insect. They evolved before the dinosaurs! They are predators and they hunt and feed on smaller insects. The larvae live under water and the winged adults emerge to live their lives flying around and between ponds, ditches, rivers and lakes.

Wicken is an excellent place to see dragonflies and is one of the best sites in the region. On a sunny day, there can be thousands of these brightly coloured insects hawking up and down the Lode and the ditches, or setting up a territory around a pond.

Right: Blue-tailed Damselfly, photo courtesy of Kevin Simmonds

Formerly the reserve had an even greater dragonfly fauna, but unfortunately the decline in peat digging in the 19th century has seen the loss of four acid-loving breeding species. Today the site is best known for its strong populations of Hairy Dragonfly Brachytron pratense, the Variable Damselfly Coenagrion pulchellum and the Red-eyed Damselfly Erythromma najas.

Two new species to the Fen have been reported since 2005, the Scarce Chaser Libellula fulva (right, photo courtesy of Kevin Simmonds) and the Small Red-eyed Damselfly Erythromma viridulum.

The Norfolk Hawker Aeshna isosceles was certainly recorded from the Fens during the 19th century but the closest published record to Wicken was the nearby Burwell Fen. Burwell Fen was bought by the National Trust in 2001 and is being restored to a fen wetland. Discussions are currently being held to determine whether Wicken Fen (on the recently created grazing marshes) might prove a suitable site for the re-establishment of Norfolk Hawker in the Fens in light of the threats they face in Norfolk and Suffolk from the potential salt water flooding of their primary habitats due to sea level rise. The complete list of dragonflies and damselflies at Wicken Fen, past and present is summarised in Table 1.

Table 1 : Dragonflies and damselflies at Wicken Fen 19th century - present

Banded Demoiselle

Caleopteryx splendens

Localised on Wicken / Monk’s Lode

Emerald Damselfly

Lestes sponsa

Common

Scarce Emerald Damselfly

Lestes dryas

Extinct

Large Red Damselfly

Pyrrhosoma nymphula

Common

Red-eyed Damselfly

Erthromma najas

Common along the Lodes and main ditches

Azure Damselfly

Coenagrion puella

Very common

Variable Damselfly

Coenagrion pulchellum

Common on ditches and Lodes

Common Blue Damselfly

Enallagma cyathigerum

Fairly common

Blue-tailed Damselfly

Ischnura elegans

Very common

Small Red Damselfly

Ceriagrion tenellum

Extinct early 20thC - peat digging species

Southern Hawker

Aeshna cyanea

Common

Brown Hawker

Aeshna grandis

Common

Common Hawker

Aeshna juncea

Extinct early 20th C -peat digging species

Migrant Hawker

Aeshna mixta

Common

Norfolk Hawker

Aeshna isosceles

Extinct - recorded on Burwell Fen 19th C

Emperor Dragonfly

Anax imperator

Local on the Lodes

Hairy Dragonfly

Brachytron pratense

Common along the Lodes and main ditches

Four-spotted Chaser

Libellula quadrimaculata

Common - praenubila recorded 1998

Broad-bodied Chaser

Libellula depressa

Odd records - not thought to breed on Fen

Scarce Chaser

Libellula fulva

Has been recorded on Burwell Lode and Burwell Fen since 2005.

Black-tailed Skimmer

Orthetrum canellatum

Common

Keeled Skimmer

Orthetrum coerulescens

Extinct early 20th C - peat digging species

Black Darter

Sympetrum danae

Extinct - former peat digging species

Yellow-winged Darter

Sympetrum flaveolum

Immigrant - recorded 1998

Ruddy Darter

Sympetrum sanguineum

Common

Common Darter

Sympetrum striolatum

Very common

Small Red-eyed Damselfly

Erythromma viridulum

A new species for the Fen in 2005, breeding in Wicken Lode near to the Visitor Centre.

National Trust
Wicken Fen, Lode Lane, Wicken, Ely, Cambridgeshire, CB7 5XP, UK
Tel/Fax: (+44) (0)1353 720274 | Email: wickenfen@nationaltrust.org.uk