|Large Red Damselfly
|Pyrrhosoma nymphula (Sulzer, 1776),
the Large Red Damselfly is a European damselfly. It is one of the first
damselflies to emerge in the year.
The Large Red Damsel is one of four
European species whose bodies are predominantly red. Compared to its smaller
stable mate the Small Red Damsel, P. nymphula is a relatively large and
robust damselfly. It's widely distributed and generally quite common throughout
Europe but, it tends to be much more localized in the South. The species'
main distinguishing features include, obviously, its red-and-black thorax
and abdomen (although some female colour forms combine black and yellow),
its black legs, and its black pterostigma.
Several forms have been distinguished
based on female patterning, and all have yellow bands around the abdominal
segments, but variation in this species is poorly-known. The typical form,
includes populations known as typica and intermedia; others are characterised
by females with less (form fulvipes) or more (form melanotum) black dorsal
patterning. fulvipes form females also exhibit a black hind margin to the
pronotum, while melanotum females have yellow (never red in mature specimens)
antehumeral stripes and may altogether lack red colouration on most of
Throughout most of Europe, the large
red damselfly's colour and early emergence distinguish it from most co-occurring
species. Small red damselflies (Ceriagrion species) have reddish-brown
legs and pterostigma (the pterostigma is greyish in the large red damselfly).
Dragonflies (e.g. Sympetrum species) are more robust, have a characteristic
wings-splayed resting posture, hindwings larger than forewings, and eyes
that make contact over the top of the head (as opposed to the broadly separated
eyes of damselflies). Large red damselflies potentially co-occur with the
poorly-known Greek red damsel (P. elisabethae) in parts of the Balkans.
This species cannot be distinguished in flight, but captured males can
be separated by the dissimilar anal appendages. In P. nymphula, the upper
and lower appendages are of equal length, with a hook below the upper appendages
extending almost to their tip. In P. elisabethae, the lower appendages
are always slightly longer than the upper, and the hook is retracted almost
to the base of the upper appendages. Female Greek red damselflies have
two prominent ridges to the rear of the pronotum, visible in profile and
dorsal view; these are much reduced in large red damselfly females.
|With total length 33-36 mm, abdomen
length 25-30 mm, hindwing length 19-24 mm, A large, active, deep red damselfly
with black legs and a bronze-black top to the thorax which has broad red
or yellow stripes. Both sexes of this damselfly are distinctive by their
red colouration; all but the final abdominal segments are entirely red
except for a narrow black 'ring' at the tip, while the final three segments
are mostly black dorsally. The thick antehumeral stripes are red in mature
individuals, yellow in immatures, and are broken so that they resemble
exclamation marks. Uniquely among European damselflies, the humeral suture
runs through (rather than below) this stripe in Pyrrhosomna species. The
first abdominal segment and the base of the thorax are yellow-green. The
legs are black. There is a thin red border to the pronotum. Females broadly
resemble males, but can be distinguished by the presence of a narrow yellow
ring around the tip of each abdominal segment. A thin black line runs down
the centre of the abdomen, and a thicker black mark occurs dorsally on
each red abdominal segment. The female exists in several colour forms varying
in the amount of red and black on the abdomen from nearly all black in
f. melanotum to mainly red in f. fulvipes.
Preferred environment is streams,
small pools and lakes; generally prefers acid sites often with little or
no open water. Flight period from mid April to end of September according
Adult males are non-territorial,
but can behave aggressively towards other damselflies, behaviour which
includes attempts to physically force an opponent into the water or ground.
Most aggression is directed towards members of the same species, but small
red damselflies (which have a similar appearance) may also be victims.
P. nymphula is known to eat a wide variety of prey items in the larval
stages. Prey items include crustaceans as small as 0.8 mm, and animals
prey on progressively larger organisms as they develop, including worms,
larger crustaceans and a range of insect larvae, although predation on
members of the same species is rare.
The large red damselfly is highly
efficient at extracting energy from its diet, absorbing almost 90% of available
energy from food items. Although dragonflies are primarily visual animals,
P. nymphula has been found to respond to chemical traces left by predators,
foraging less when chemical signals of a predatory dragonfly larva is detected.
Reproduction and Development
|Male large red damselflies identify
suitable females visually, based on the colour of the abdomen. This species
oviposits in tandem, selecting suitable oviposition sites by the shape
of plant leaf margins (Corbet & Brooks, 2008). Males guard the females
by adopting an upright 'sentinel' position to keep watch for predators
while eggs are being deposited. Groups of tandem pairs will often oviposit
in the same location, attracted to the presence of ovipositing pairs already
at the site.
The large red damselfly is semivoltine,
taking two years to complete larval development, developing to a late larval
stage in its first year and overwintering prior to emergence. This long
developmental period is associated with a low rate of larval survival;
as few as 0.2% of larvae may complete development in fish-free ponds (Lawton,
1970). Maturation takes 9-15 days to complete, and adults may live for
a further 40 days or more (with males exhibiting greater average lifespans
Eggs hatch 2-3 weeks after laying.
Development takes 2 years, with final instar larvae in diapause over second
winter. Larvae are bottom dwellers amongst plant debris and vegetation.
Diet consists of insect larvae, protozoa, rotifers and micro-crustaceans,
with later instars taking more insect larvae. Larvae are territorial.
Larva is short and rather squat in
comparison with 'typical' small damselfly larvae. This appearance is due
to extended wing sheaths, which reach almost to abdominal section 6. The
head is squarish, with a straight line forming its rear margin. Two dark
bands are present on the femur. Larvae have broad, strongly pointed lamellae
with characteristic dark markings, often taking the form of an 'X'. Colouration
is dark, typically brownish, although this may result from staining
In contrast to many species, large red damselfly larvae can typically be
identified in all stages of development, not simply the final instar.
Larvae are 'cryptic claspers', concealing
themselves from predators by remaining fixed to debris and vegetation that
acts as camouflage, a strategy which appears to defend them effectively
against fish. They may also 'play dead' when disturbed in an effort to
Larvae are ambush predators and appear
to adopt a conservative feeding strategy, expending little energy in pursuit
of prey but limiting their potential food intake. They exhibit a range
of territorial behaviours when faced with conspecifics, including jabbing
the caudal lamellae at competitors and engaging in 'staring contests' until
one animal withdraws.
Emergence occurs from as early as
the beginning of April to mid-August, occasionally to late August, with
a peak between May and June. Most emergences take place in early- and mid-May,
and animals emerge low down on bankside and emergent vegetation. Emergence
is often synchronised so that large numbers of new adults take to the wing
at once. Immature adults mature away from breeding sites for 2 weeks. Males
defend perch near breeding site against rival males and attempting to gain
females. Mating occurs in vegetation.
|Throughout Europe east to Finland
in the north and the Urals in the south. The species has not been recorded
from Ukraine, and only in isolated areas of Romania, but is likely to be
widespread in this region. It is absent from northern Scandinavia and much
of southern Iberia, although isolated populations occur in Morocco.
|Widespread and common
Species on Stamps
With courteous to Mr. Richard
Lewington for the Dragonfly Illustration
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