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Nature in Shetland

winner of a Shetland Environment Award 2004


Shetland Entomological Group



None of these lists can be reproduced without written permission from SEG or SBRC.

dragonflies and damselflies
 compiled by Mike Pennington


One species of damselfly is resident in Shetland (Pennington 1995) and at least four species have occurred as vagrants.
Pyrrhosoma nymphula (Sulzer)  Large Red Damselfly  V: one record - Sandgarth, central Mainland, in June-July 2004.
Enallagma cyathigerum (Charpentier) Common Blue Damselfly  R: locally frequent in small, vegetated pools in north and central Mainland and south Yell; also recorded on Fetlar in 2002. June-August.
Aeshna juncea (Linn.) Common Hawker  V: one record -  Fair Isle in July 1955.
Hemianix ephippiger (Burmeister) Migrant Emperor  V: at least one record - Fetlar in 1970; a probable was on Fair Isle in September 1995.
Libellula quadrimaculata (Linn.) Four-spotted Chaser  V: at least three records - Fair Isle in July 1958, Noss in June 1998 and Sullom Voe in August 2004; a possible was on Fair Isle in September 2004.
Sympetrum sp. Darter sp. V - one record - Fair Isle in August 2001.


Dragonflies and Damselflies in Shetland

Dragonflies and damselflies (Odonata) are amongst the oldest of all the insect orders having flown around the primeval forests with the dinosaurs. Their bright colours, relatively large size and small number of British species make them a popular group amongst naturalists. Their ability to migrate over quite long distances gives than an added interest. In Shetland, only five species have been certainly recorded so far, and only one of these is resident. In addition, an unidentified Sympetrum sp. has been seen.

photo right: male Common Blue Damselfly

Large Red Damselfly
Pyrrhosoma nymphula
One frequented a pond in a garden at Sandgarth, north of Voe, on 29th June and 3rd July 2004. Although this would seem to be an unusual migrant, no plants had been imported to the pond for several years, so it must have been a migrant. The species does breed as close as Orkney.
Common Blue Damselfly  
Enallagma cyathigerum
This is the only dragonfly or damselfly to breed in Shetland. It is one of the commonest and most widespread of the damselflies, especially in Scotland, where it is often the only species present at some sites. The first published reference to its occurrence in Shetland is by Godfrey who said the species was 'observed in some abundance at the lochs of North Delting and the peat-holes of Gluss Isle' in 1896 and 1897.

Known sites for the species fall into three main areas. There are a series of records from the north-west coastal areas of Northmavine (sites at Eshaness, Tingon and North Roe), a few sites around the inlet of Sullom Voe (sites at Gluss Isle, Scatsta, Toft and Hill of Garth) and a number of sites in the southern half of the island of Yell. One site, at Laxo, does not fall into any of these broad categories, while in 2002 the species was recorded on Fetlar for the first time.

There is no obvious reason why the damselflies are restricted to this area of Shetland. Indeed, the richer more eutrophic waters of South Mainland, or the more heavily vegetated lochs of West Mainland would appear to be more likely sites for Odonata. The discovery of populations of damselflies outside the known areas is not impossible, but it is highly unlikely that they will be discovered in relatively populous South Mainland.

Sites used in Shetland are usually small pools on peat moorland with an extensive growth of floating vegetation. Confirmed breeding records are few but mainly because the sites are in remote areas which are seldom visited. The damselflies occasionally wander to larger bodies or water or are seen flying along streams.

right: a map showing the distribution of the Common Blue Damselfly in Shetland by 10 km squares

Common Hawker  
Aeshna juncea

A Common Hawker was collected from Fair Isle on 24th July 1955 and sent for identification to the famous dragonfly expert Cynthia Longfield. Although not a renowned migrant, other members of this genus are, and the Common Hawker does occur as close as Orkney.

Migrant Emperor  
Hemianax ephipigger

A specimen of this African and Asian dragonfly, another member of the family Aeshnidae, was obtained on Fetlar in about 1970. The specimen is now in the Natural History Museum in London. Although it is an essentially tropical and sub-tropical species, this dragonfly is a famous migrant and vagrants occur in variable numbers in Europe every year. It remains a great rarity anywhere in Britain but it is, in fact, the only species of dragonfly to have occurred in Iceland. Another unidentified hawker was seen on Fair Isle on 13th September 1995. It was only seen briefly but could not be identified with certainty. It was a member of the family Aeshnidae, most probably this species.

Four-spotted Chaser  
Libellula quadrimaculata

Singles of this species were recorded on Fair Isle in July 1958,on Noss on 14th June 1998, at Sullom Voe Terminal on 12th August 2004. A probable was recorded at Golden Water on Fair Isle on 6th September 2004. This species is a well known migrant from the Continent into southern Britain in many years, so its occasional appearance as a vagrant elsewhere is to be expected.


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