Beauties in the Bog

Thursday 6th July 2023

…blog by Melissa Shaw, Buglife Peat Conservation Officer, written for National Dragonfly Week 2023

Scotland’s magnificent landscapes are known for their picturesque beauty, from rolling hills and pristine lochs to rugged coastlines. Among the remarkable creatures that call this land home, dragonflies stand out as captivating inhabitants of the bogs. These enchanting predatory creatures, with their delicate appearing wings and vivid colours, grace the wetlands with their presence. In this blog, we will explore the dragonfly species found in Scottish bogs and celebrate their captivating beauty, while also diving into their intriguing life history and life cycle.

Imperator nymph © David Pryce
Imperator nymph © David Pryce

The life cycle of dragonflies is fascinating. They undergo incomplete metamorphosis, consisting of three main stages: egg, nymph, and adult. Female dragonflies lay their eggs in water, typically in aquatic vegetation or submerged debris. Once hatched, the nymphs, often called “naiads”, lead an entirely aquatic lifestyle, feeding on small invertebrates and even small fish and tadpoles.

During the nymph stage, dragonflies undergo a series of moults, shedding their outer skin – their exoskeletons – as they grow. This stage can last from a few months to several years, depending on the species. Once the nymphs are fully developed, they climb out of the water onto emergent vegetation or other suitable surfaces. The transformation from nymph to adult is a remarkable process. The exoskeleton splits open, and the adult dragonfly emerges, still soft and vulnerable.

Broad Bodied Chaser emerging © Steven Falk
Broad Bodied Chaser emerging © Steven Falk

Once emerged, dragonflies enter the adult stage, where they undergo a period of maturation and develop their vibrant colours and patterns. Adult dragonflies are known for their exceptional flight abilities and agility. They spend their days patrolling their territories, hunting small insects on the wing, and engaging in courtship displays.

Many of our dragonflies are bog specialists, requiring acidic bog pools to lay their eggs in before flying low over the Sphagnum moss and heather, catching other insects that make the bog their home.

Black Darter (Sympetrum danae):

The Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) is frequently found in and around bogs, like those found within our restoration project on the Slammannan Plateau. This small but beautiful dragonfly can be amber in colour, however the males are our only black dragonfly in the UK.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum):

These beautiful small dragonflies are our most common darter, found on the wing often into the start of winter, darting over ponds, pools and on woodland edges. Their red or yellow bodies can be separated from other darters by their pale legs and yellow patches on the sides of the males thorax.

Common Hawker (Aeshna juncea) © Claire Pumfrey
Common Hawker (Aeshna juncea) © Claire Pumfrey

The Common Hawker (Aeshna juncea):

One of the most prominent, and largest, dragonfly species found in Scottish bogs is the Common Hawker. With its striking appearance, this species mesmerizes observers with its large, emerald-green or bright blue eyes and vibrant yellow stripes on its thorax. The wings of the Common Hawker showcase a beautiful blend of blue and green hues, with a wonderful yellow highlight on its thorax creating a sense of elegance as it gracefully flies over the water. Its presence adds a touch of magic to the bog ecosystem. The Common Hawker is one of the most common dragonfly species we find on our bogs on the Slammannan Plateau.

The Azure Hawker (Aeshna caerulea):

The Azure Hawker is another mesmerizing dragonfly species found in Scottish bogs. As its name suggests, this species exhibits stunning shades of azure blue on its body, which contrasts beautifully with its dark wings. Observing an Azure Hawker in flight is like witnessing a small, iridescent jewel dancing through the air. Its delicate and agile movements create a sense of tranquillity, making it a true symbol of natural beauty. The Azure Hawker is currently considered vulnerable and is only found in the Scottish Highlands as elsewhere its habitat has been afforested, drained and had peatland extraction.

The Four-Spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata): 

The Four-Spotted Chaser is a dragonfly species that can be spotted in the boggy regions of Scotland. This charming species is known for its distinct black spots on its clear wings, which give it its name. The body of the Four-Spotted Chaser exhibits a warm golden hue, adding a touch of brilliance to its overall appearance. These dragonflies are often seen perching on vegetation, allowing observers to appreciate their intricate patterns up close.

Northern Emerald Dragonfly (Somatochlora arctica):

A rare, Near Threatened jewel of the North-western Highlands, this Scottish species lives in and around the bog pools and as adults is often found skimming over open habitats like moors, meadows, and occasionally pine woods. Its metallic emerald body is distinctive and flashes beautifully in the sun as the dragonfly speeds past.

White-faced Darter Female (Leucorrhinia dubia) © Buglife
White-faced Darter Female (Leucorrhinia dubia) © Buglife

The White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia):

Among the dragonfly species that specialize in bog habitats, the White-faced Darter stands out as a true gem. In the males, the White-faced Darter displays a striking red and black abdomen and thorax, with a distinct white face and burgundy eyes. In the females, the body is yellow and black, also with a white face. This contrast of colours adds to their allure.

The White-faced Darter is of particular conservation concern. The species is Endangered in Scotland. Their dependence on deep bog pools, with floating Sphagnum matts, makes them vulnerable to habitat loss and degradation. Efforts are underway to protect and restore their preferred wetland habitats to ensure the survival of this captivating species.

Exploring the dragonfly species found in Scottish bogs reveals a world of captivating beauty. From the Common Hawker’s striking yellow thorax, to the Azure Hawker’s mesmerizing azure blue hues, these creatures add a touch of magic to the wetland ecosystems of Scotland and the UK. The Four-Spotted Chaser and the Emerald Damselfly further enhance this natural spectacle with their intricate patterns and vibrant colours.

Next time you find yourself in the enchanting bogs of Scotland, take a moment to appreciate these fascinating dragonfly species. Observe their delicate flight, admire their vivid colours, and let their beauty transport you to a world where nature’s artistry flourishes. In the realm of Scottish bogs, dragonflies reign as true ambassadors of beauty, reminding us of the wonders that await when we immerse ourselves in the natural world.

If you would like to learn more about dragonflies and damselflies in Britain, you can visit The British Dragonfly societies website

To read more about our peatland restoration projects and the importance of preserving our peatlands visit Buglife’s Lowland Raised Bogs web pages

Main Image Credit: Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) © Claire Pumfrey