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24 June 2007

There be dragons!

Wildside – our regular look at the non-human residents of SE23

With names like Ruddy Darter and Broad-bodied Chaser to inspire the imagination, Dragonflies are every bit as exciting as their fire-breathing counterparts. And, unlike the fire-breathing variety (rarely spotted in SE23 since the arrival of fried chicken outlets and nail parlours), dragonflies are on show in Forest Hill – if you know where to look.

These beautiful insects have been around for more than 300 million years – that’s 55 million years longer than the dinosaurs - although back then they could have a wingspan of up to one metre.

Like so much of our wildlife, their existence depends on streams and ponds. The dragonfly’s larvae live in water for as long as 7 years before emerging. So, as our ponds disappear and streams are diverted underground, dragonflies have fewer places to breed and their numbers dwindle.

There aren’t many big ponds in Lewisham so, again, the Devonshire Road Nature Reserve is a vital haven. Azure & Large Red Damselflies, Southern Hawker, Black-tailed Skimmer, Broad-bodied Chaser and Common Darter have all been recorded in the ponds there in recent years.

Now is the perfect time of year to observe their incredible ability to fly forwards, backwards and sideways. Dragonflies love the sun so a warm day between late morning and early afternoon is the best time to see them.

The British Dragonfly Society is currently running a survey on where the Broad-Bodied Chaser lives. The male has a pale blue coloured abdomen and the female a brown abdomen. Both have dark brown triangular patches at the base of all four wings. To take part in the survey go online at www.brc.ac.uk

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