Almost everyone knows the great legend of St George and the Dragon, the brave knight who fought to rescue a princess and later became known as the Patron Saint of England. As the sunshine is shining and we're spotting more and more species across the reserve, we thought it'd be fun to see which of our residents could play the parts of the characters in the legend. Alas, here be no dragons. However, if we look closely at the wildlife we have today, you may be surprised how dragon-like some of our residents can be…
The origin of the name ‘dragonfly’ is shrouded in folklore, but is often said to have derived from the word ‘Dragon’ due to the insect’s incredible flying skills. In Greek the word Odonata (a carnivorous group of insects including the dragonfly) means ‘toothed one’, so whilst dragonflies may not be able to breathe fire they do have an amazing set of serrated teeth.
These small creatures can fly at a phenomenal 45mph in any direction! Up, down, left, right, forwards, backwards… the dragonfly may travel wherever it chooses. They flap their wings at a mere 30 times a minute, whilst other winged insects such as the housefly needs to flap their wings at 1000 times a minute. We think that’s pretty awesome!
Here at RSPB Sandwell we’ve had lots of dragonfly sightings over the years including southern hawkers, migrant hawkers and common darters. Now that the sun is shining we’ll be seeing much more of our winged friends. Because dragonflies don’t like the cold they’ll wait until the weather is a lot warmer before they go out hunting. Male dragonflies in particular can hunt for hours at a time, and are extremely territorial. Perhaps like dragon’s they have their own secret lairs? Who knows?
The likeliest times of year to spot a dragonfly is from late April to early October, the most prominent months being June to August. They can often be found hovering over wetland areas and ponds, so if you’re out pond dipping there’s a pretty good chance you’ll see one!
Now, for our princess. Rescued by St George from the dragon, our princess needs to be pretty, dainty and of course a damsel in distress. So who better than the damselfly?
(common blue damselfly – Jodie Randall)
It can be quite easy to get a damselfly and a dragonfly mixed up, but there are a few things you can look out for that help in identifying which is which.
1) Dragonflies have much larger eyes than damselflies
2) Damselflies are long and thin, whereas dragonflies are short and stocky
3) When they're resting dragonflies leave their wings outright, but damselflies fold them up so that they lay along their back
Damselflies love hovering over water. If you're on a walk along the Tame River, enjoying a picnic by one of our ponds or strolling along Forge Mill Lake, you might just encounter one of these graceful fliers.
So, if we have a dragonfly for our dragon and a damselfly for our princess, which insect do you think could be our St George? St George was a brave knight, and knights have armour... a shield bug, perhaps?
(nymph green shield bug – ben hall)
Shield bugs are amazing little creatures. They get their name from their shield-shaped body which looks like a shield a knight would have used during medieval times. At RSPB Sandwell we've had common green and hawthorn shieldbugs, both of which are native to the UK. The latter are particularly fond of our hedgerows, and can often be found amongst the hawthorn bushes. Shield bugs are most active from April to October so if you head out on a minibeast safari sometime soon chances are you might spot a few.
So, whether you're out and about looking for dragons or simply enjoying the sunshine, have a happy St George's Day!