THE BEAUTIFUL (and BANDED) DEMOISELLE IN CUMBRIA
- The Beautiful Demoiselle damselfly is found in the Lake District mainly in the area between Coniston and Windermere. It is a species that likes clean flowing water and does not tolerate pollution well – consequently its other strongholds are the south west of England, Wales and West Scotland.
- Emergence begins in late May but mature adults don’t generally appear at the streamside until mid-June, spending the intervening time feeding and developing elsewhere. They are on the wing throughout June and July and often into August.
- This large damselfly actually looks more like a butterfly when seen in flight, and a slightly tipsy butterfly at that (an old folk name for the damselfly is “water butterfly” probably because of this species). The blue males seem to loll about as though they can’t quite decide which way to go!
- Images of this colourful species were often painted in the margins of illustrated manuscripts in the Middle Ages, suggesting they were perhaps more common at that time.
- One of the best sites I know for Beautiful Demoiselle occurs at the southern outflow from Yew Tree Tarn, near Coniston. Here there is a sunny glade and even a bench to sit on while you take in the sight. Hundreds of people must pass here every week in summer but most look the other way over the tarn and few probably notice the delightful behaviour of this species behind them (or the nesting Titmice, Pied Flycatchers etc.)!
- Other prominent sites include a large population on Cunsey beck on the west shore of Windermere and they can also be watched well from the bridge at Sparkbridge on the River Crake.
- Males defend the best bits of vegetation overlooking the best sites where females might lay eggs (as in the photos above). At rest, with wings folded along the body, they might seem to be just a dark damselfly, but when they open their wings the metallic sheen becomes more obvious. It is when they fly in the sunshine that the eye sees a stunning blue shimmer:-
- The metallic colour on the wings of the Beautiful Demoiselle develops with age until it covers virtually all the wing, apart from the tips remaining brownish. The degree of irridesence varies with the light:-
In contrast, the Banded Demoiselle has a distinct band on the outer half of each wing and at rest or in flight looks obviously “banded” (as in the image below).
Notice the clear areas at either end of the wings. When seen together the Banded looks the smaller of the two species – the abdomen is slightly shorter, but the wings are noticeably shorter and less broad.
- The Banded Demoiselle is much less common than the Beautiful in Cumbria, though it is relatively common from Cheshire southwards. It has a similar lifestyle, but the Banded usually prefers much slower flowing, or even still, water than the Beautiful Demoiselle.
- Until recently it was found only at a few sites in the north of the county close to the Solway and more recently on the Derwent near Cockermouth. However, since 2010, it has been seen for the first time at a number of sites in the south of the county on the rivers Gilpin and Bela. Unusually, at Pool bridge near the Howe, both species can be seen on either side of the same bridge – the Banded usually being found on the south-east side!
- Females of both species are less frequently seen, unless ovi-positing and watched over by the last male with which it has mated. Females of both species are very similar in appearance, developing from brown to brown-green, but unlike the males have no pigmented areas on the wings at all. Beautiful Demoiselle females have larger wings than Banded and the wings usually have a distinct brownish tinge (as in the image below):-