The Odonata are an order of insects with aquatic larvae. There are two groups, the dragonflies (suborder Epiprocta but often called Anisoptera), which are usually larger, with touching eyes and wings held open at rest) and the damselflies (suborder Zygoptera) which are usually smaller, with separated eyes and wings folded along the body at rest). Three species of damselfly are found in Shetland and they all breed, although probably only one is native. Dragonflies are strong fliers and some are long-distance migrants: three species have been identified in Shetland.
Common Blue Damselfly Enallagma cyathigerum
This is the only undoubtedly native species in Shetland. The first published reference to its occurrence is by R. Godfrey who said it was 'observed in some abundance at the lochs of North Delting and the peat-holes of Gluss Isle' in 1896 and 1897. The distribution is curiously restricted although there appears to be suitable habitat elsewhere. Shetland sites tend to be small pools on peat moorland with an extensive growth of floating vegetation, although they are sometimes seen around larger lochs. Nearly all the regular sites in the south half of Yell (especially on the west side) and on Mainland between Eshaness and North Nesting. A few other sightings further south in central Mainland seem to be wanderers, and one was seen on Fetlar in 2002. In Britain, this 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.
Large White Mike Penningotn
Common Blue Damselflies (male and female) Jim Nicolson
Azure Damselfly Coneagrion puella
Only known from the vicinity of one garden pond in Sandwick, where it was first seen in ???? and presumably brought in with pond plants. It is a widespread species found as far north as ... It is very similar to the Common Blue Damselfly but ...
Large Red Damselfly Pyrrhosoma nymphula
Only known from the vicinity of the pond in the plantations and gardens at Sandgarth, north of Voe, where it was first seen in 2004. The origins of the colony are unclear, as there had not been recent additions to the plants in the pond, leading to suggestions that it may have been a natural immigrant, as it does occur as close as Orkney, but the population has not expanded since it was first noted.
Large Red Damselflies (including emerging nymph) Tony Gerrard
Three species of dragonfly have been identified in Shetland, although others have probably occurred. Unidentified dragonflies are occasionally reported, although some have these have undoubtedly gone unrecorded. In addition to the records below, an unidentified darter sp. Sympetrum sp. was seen on Fair Isle in August 2001.
Four-spotted Chaser Libellula quadrimaculata
Three confirmed records:
1958 Fair Isle, July 1958
1998 Noss, 14th June
2004 Sullom Voe Terminal, 12th August
A dragonfly that was probably this species was seen at Golden Water on Fair Isle on 6th September 2004. This species breeds widely over Britain but it is also well known as a migrant from the Continent into southern Britain in many years, so its occasional appearance as a vagrant elsewhere is to be expected.
Migrant Emperor Hemianix ephippiger
Two confirmed records, of one found on Fetlar in 1970 and sent to the Natural History Museum and a female found dead at Soberlie, Foula on 8th September 2019 (a dragonfly sp. was seen at Ham on Foula a few weeks earlier). In addition, a dragonfly that was probably this species was seen on Fair Isle in September 1995.
Migrant Emperor, Foula, 2019 Penny Gear
Common Hawker Aeshna juncea
One was collected from Fair Isle on 24th July 1955 and sent for identification to the 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.
Written by Mike Pennington Updated 7th July 2020
with contributions from Paul Harvey and incorporating information from Shetland Biological Records Centre