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The Hidden World Of The Common Dragonfly

June is the best time to spot a dragonfly. Here’s why it’s worth looking for one common species.

Image of two dragonflies.

Dragonflies in Masovia, Poland.

Jakob Ratz/ZUMA
Mateusz Sowiński

WARSAW — The beginning of the summer is peak season for several species of dragonfly, whose color can be just as striking as that of a butterfly. Even the common dragonfly species, Gomphus vulgatissimus (known as the Common Clubtail in English), is a flying jewel, marked by an eye-catching black and yellow pattern.

As its name suggests, the common dragonfly species is found all over Europe, even as far as the south of France. But because these dragonflies spend a good chunk of their lives in high treetops, spotting one is not always easy.

It’s around this time that these insects can be seen on lower fauna, resting on leaves or rocks. Here is how to locate and identify one.

The common dragonfly has small, green eyes

The common dragonfly is a medium-sized insect sporting four transparent wings. Their bodies measure around 5 cm in total, with a wingspan that is just a little bit longer. It differs from a rarer cousin – the yellow-legged dragonfly – only by the color of its limbs. The common species is all black below its body.

Its small, green-gray eyes are set wide apart. This is a characteristic specific to dragonflies of the genus Gomphidae. Other dragonfly varieties have larger eyes that are closer in distance.

Luckily, Poland’s dragonflies are still thriving.

The Common Clubtail dragonfly prefers moving bodies of water, which is why they can most frequently be seen around rivers and streams. They are a less commonly seen near lakes and gravel pits. But dragonflies will also willingly move away from the water reservoirs where they are born, and can be seen flying in forests and basking in spots of sun on dry land as well.

Image of a common clubtail (Gomphus vulgatissimus) female, in Lahemaa National Park, Estonia.

A common clubtail (Gomphus vulgatissimus) female, in Lahemaa National Park, Estonia.

Charles J. Sharp

They like clean rivers

Like other dragonflies, the Common Clubtail is a predator species that hunts other insects, including flies, wasps, caddisflies and even medium-sized moths. They can also consume smaller species of dragonfly.

This species hunts its victims while in flight, and when it manages to successfully capture its prey, it perches on a plant to devour it.

After mating, females lay about 500 eggs directly into the water. The larvae hatch after a few weeks, where they spend most of their lives buried in the mud. To survive, they hunt the larvae of other insects, oligochaetes and small crustaceans. Their development can take up to 3 years in total, only a fraction of which is spent above ground.

Although this species of dragonfly is familiar in Poland, it is commonly classified as endangered in Western European countries. In Germany, the pollution of water reservoirs has made them all but impossible to spot, as the species is known for liking clean water.

Luckily, Poland’s dragonflies are still thriving. But if we continue polluting our rivers and streams, it could face dangers here as well.

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