Lots of eggs in different baskets

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Lots of eggs in different baskets

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Now I know in the very dim and distant past that dragonflies used to be seen as forces of darkness - the 'Devil's Darning Needles' were said to sew up the mouths of those who swear and scold (although that sounds like a force for good to me!).

However, in our more enlightened times, I've yet to meet someone who isn't fascinated by them, so one of the big joys of having a pond is watching dragonflies and damselflies come to visit.

And right now is a good time to watch for dragons and damsels laying eggs.

You might think that they all do it in pretty much the same way, but that's not the case. Each species has its own strategy, which can give you extra clues as to which species you are looking at.

For example, in the last couple of weeks, I've had a pair of Small Red-eyed Damselflies laying eggs in my pond. I'm extra excited by this, as it is still less than 20 years since this European species was first found in the UK. They arrived naturally in this country, and have since spread incredibly quickly and can now be found as far north as Yorkshire.

Their means of egg laying is with the male firmly guarding his female, clasping her by the back of the neck while she lowers her abdomen deep into floating algae to lay her eggs.

That's quite different from the very common Blue-tailed Damselfly, which looks very similar, but in which the females lay their eggs without the male hanging on.

We're entering peak season for Common Darters, which is a small dragonfly, only about the size of one of those mini pencils you find in Argos stores, and is red in mature males, orange in females. They lay eggs with the male and female joined, but in an amazingly controlled tandem flight, dipping down to the water surfact like a marionnette.

My pond is also favoured by Emperor Dragonflies, in which the female egg-lays alone out on patches of waterweed; it is coming to the end of their season now.

But this week, I had a Southern Hawker dragonfly egg-laying, although perhaps not where you might expect. In what seems a bit of an odd strategy, she actually lays her eggs out of water.

My female was so preoccupied that she allowed me to get incredibly close, so close that I could see her 'ovipositor' in action. The ovipositor is the tube down which the eggs are laid, but in those species that 'place' their eggs carefully, it is in the shape of a curved claw that cuts a slit into plants or, in the case of the Southern Hawker, wet wood or moss.

It must be tremendously sensitive, because I could watch her prodding about with the end of her abdomen, like a hand gently feeling for the right place, that claw on the underside slicing into the moss.

Those eggs will hatch next spring, the tiny nymphs will crawl into the water, and will then spend over a year growing until in (probably) summer 2019, they emerge as the next adults.

And if that happens, well, that's the holy grail of wildlife-friendly gardening, when your patch contributes to the next generation. 

Comments
  • Hi Carol. The pebble bit is just to give them grip if the 'birdbath' has sloping sides and is hence slippy or to decrease over-deep birdbaths. If your large plastic tray is flat bottomed and the water depth is shallow enough that they're happy to be in it, then ditch the pebbles. I don't want to create you extra work :)  

  • Carol Ford

    While I enjoy your tips for the garden I have to say that putting pebbles in the bird bath is a lot more work. I use a large plastic plant pot base which sits on top of a pedestal and I have to clean it out every day - sometimes twice a day. We are getting lots of Sparrows and Pigeons nowadays and keeping feeders and bird bath clean is a task - but I'm happy to do it for the health of the birds.

    Read more at www.rspb.org.uk/.../default.aspx

  • While I enjoy your tips for the garden I have to say that putting pebbles in the bird bath is a lot more work. I use a large plastic plant pot base which sits on top of a pedestal and I have to clean it out every day - sometimes twice a day. We are getting lots of Sparrows and Pigeons nowadays and keeping feeders and bird bath clean is a task - but I'm happy to do it for the health of the birds.