Latin name: Leucorrhinia dubia
Notable feature: Black body with red and orange markings on abdomen and thorax, pale creamy white face, two pairs of densely veined wings with a brown patch at the base.
Conservation Status: Least Concern
Where in the UK: Isolated sites in the English Midlands and the Scottish Highlands
White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) © David Pryce
Dragonflies are an ancient group dating back 300 million years. These insects are characterised by large multifaceted eyes, a long slender body and 2 pairs of wings which lie open when at rest. Dragonflies often come in a variety of beautiful iridescent colouring.
The White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) is a small, dark dragonfly with a pale, creamy-white face and is one of the rarest dragonflies in the UK. Males and females tend to be distinguishable by their colour variations; females are black with yellow markings, whereas males are black with red-orange markings. Both have small brown patches at the base of their wings.
The males are territorial around water but both males and females can often be spotted roosting on trees and bushes up to 50 metres away from a bog.
The White-faced Darter can be seen through the summer months catching smaller prey on the wing, consuming their catch on a perch away from the bog.
The White-faced Darter is extremely susceptible to the destruction of lowland peatbogs. They require acidic pools with a proliferation of Sphagnum at the edges in which to lay their eggs. They also require scrubland away from the peat bog in which to roost. They have suffered a decline in the last 40 years as 90% of lowland peat bog in Britain has been lost due to excessive cultivation and pollution. Removal of Sphagnum moss for commercial purposes has also decimated populations by destroying eggs within it. The White-faced Darter is now found in only half of the sites in which it used to inhabit throughout the UK. There are some signs of a comeback though with an introduction in Cheshire off to a successful start.
- Size: 33-37mm in length
- Life span: Biennial (or longer) life cycle; adults only live a few months
- Diet: The White-faced Darter, like most dragonflies, is a voracious hunter; catching other insects on the wing before landing on a perch to consume their prey.
- Reproduction: Mating takes place in Heather near bogs. After this the female will deposit eggs in Sphagnum moss at the edge of the bog. Nymphs spend up to 2 years hunting in this matrix of bog and moss using jet propulsion from their rear end to propel them while also using legs to walk. Nymphs predate on smaller invertebrates by extending the lower part of their jaw to trap prey. After several moults, the adults emerge onto the stem of a plant. They metamorphose, pump their wings out and fly away. The adults will remain active until the winter when they will die.
- When to see: Adults are generally seen from April until September.
- Population Trend: Listed as Endangered in the British Odonata Red List 2008. Strongholds for the White-faced Darter are in the Highlands of Scotland, particularly but this species has declined in England and can now only be found at a handful of sites in the Midlands and Cumbria.
- Threats: Loss of habitat, in particular removal and loss of Sphagnum moss, pollution, climate change and the introduction of fish.
- Fun Fact: White-faced Darter nymphs in water where fish are present have been shown to grow bigger spines on their back to prevent predation.
The White-faced Darter has been identified as a Criteria B species through our Important Invertebrate Area (IIA) work.
How you can help:
Buglife is working to increase awareness of invertebrates and the White-faced Darter through specific projects, including our current Falkirk Lowland raised Bog Restoration Project and previous Slamannan Bog Restoration and Saving Auchenines Moss, but we need your help!
If you would like to volunteer for our current project please get in touch with our Peatland Conservation Officer Melissa Shaw. There are volunteering opportunities ranging from practical workdays to take out scrub and trees on the bogs, to survey work across the bogs for wildlife and to monitor water levels both before and after restoration work has been carried out.
Find out about our peat bogs and what you can do to help this species by going #PeatFree; check out our blog “Don’t get bogged down with peat…”
Join a recording scheme and log your finds – send any records/sightings to the British Dragonfly Society or download the iRecord app and get recording!
Do remember that we rely on donations to continue our work. If you have searched, found and learnt about our incredible invertebrates on our website, please do consider Making a Donation, Becoming a Member or maybe even making a purchase in our shop. For more ideas on how to support our work find out how to Get Involved. Thank you 🕷