A dragonfly in Highland has reached new heights as it was discovered breeding in a pond at 830 metres above sea level, a UK record, below the summit of Tom a’Choinich just north of Loch Affric. A female of the dragonfly in question, a Common Hawker, was seen egg laying at the pond and on further investigation a larva was found along with an adult that had just emerged that morning. The previous highest recorded dragonfly breeding in Scotland was at 650 metres.
Common Hawkers are widespread throughout the Highlands and live on the wing from June to October. The male has blue and yellow markings on a black background and is often seen flying far away from a ponds or lochans. It is the second biggest dragonfly found in the Highlands. The biggest is the Golden-ringed Dragonfly, which is 7.5cm long and as its name suggests it is black and yellow.
Jonathan Willet, The Highland Council’s Biodiversity Officer, who found the pond said: “Being a bit of a dragonfly enthusiast this was a really exciting find, I always have an eye out for dragonflies and was really surprised to see a female egg laying in this pond. Being so high up this must be close to the height limit for breeding in the UK.”
Jonathan added: “This species does breed very high up in continental Europe, up to 2700 metres in the Swiss Alps, but the summers are a lot warmer there! The pond is found in a sheltered location in a south facing corrie, so this must create a warm microclimate within the pond allowing the larva to develop, but it may spend 5 years as a larva before it is fully grown and ready to emerge as an adult, which may only live for 3 to 4 weeks.”
Councillor William Ross, Chairman of the Planning, Environment and Development Committee said: “This is a fascinating record and it is surprising that such a heat-loving insect can be found so high up. It just goes to show that there is still much to learn about the natural world of the Highlands.”
For those wanting to learn more about the 18 species of dragonflies and damselflies found in the Highlands a leaflet on these insects has just been produced by The Highland Council and the British Dragonfly Society. This leaflet is available in all the Highland’s libraries, Service Points and Tourist Information Centres, or you can request a copy from Jonathan Willet at email@example.com or 01463 702274.
Dragonflies and damselflies are closely related. Damselflies are about the size of a matchstick with eyes at the side of their head and when at rest they hold their wings closed at the sides of their abdomen. Dragonflies are about twice the size and much chunkier, they have large eyes that meet in the middle and when at rest hold their wings open at right angles to their body.
The British Dragonfly Society is encouraging volunteers to participate in survey work to compile an Atlas of the distribution of dragonflies and damselflies in the UK. The Atlas will be produced in 2011. For more information see http://british-dragonflies.org.uk