Devon Wildlife Trust The Beautiful demoiselle is a large damselfly that lives on small, fast-flowing rivers, mainly in the west of the country. It is one of only two UK damselflies with obviously coloured wings; the similar-looking Banded demoiselle, however, has distinctive dark patches on its wings. The Beautiful demoiselle is typically on the wing from May to August. It displays a flitting, fluttering flight, which the male uses to attract a female.

How to identify

Male Beautiful demoiselles have dark-coloured wings and metallic blue-green bodies; females have brown wings and green bodies. The Beautiful demoiselle is similar to the Banded Demoiselle, but the males of the latter species have distinctive dark patches in the middle of their wings.

Devon Wildlife Trust The Southern hawker is a large hawker dragonfly that is on the wing from the end of June through to October. A common dragonfly of ponds, lakes and canals in the lowlands, particularly near to woodland, it can be seen patrolling a regular patch of water when hunting, or often 'hawking' through woodland rides. Hawkers are the largest and fastest flying dragonflies; they catch their insect-prey mid-air and can hover or fly backwards.

How to identify

The Southern hawker is mostly black in colour. The male has lime green spots all along the body, pale blue bands on the last three segments of the abdomen, blue-green eyes, and large green patches on the thorax. The female is paler, with pale green spots and brownish eyes. The black-and-blue hawkers are a tricky group of dragonflies to identify. The Southern hawker can be recognised by its lime green, rather than blue, spots and the large pale patches on its thorax.

Devon Wildlife Trust There are nine species of pond skater in the UK, which range between 1-2cm in length. Often seen in large groups, they 'skate' around on the surface of the water in ponds, lakes, ditches and slow-flowing rivers, feeding on smaller insects which they stab with their sharp mouthparts or 'beaks'. The Common pond skater emerges from hibernation in April and lays its eggs. Hatching soon after, the nymphs go through a number of moults.

How to identify

The brownish-black, long-legged Common pond skater is only likely to be confused with the smaller, thinner, more fragile-looking Common water-measurer, or the smaller, chunkier, shorter-legged Water cricket.

Devon Wildlife Trust The Azure damselfly is a small blue damselfly that is very common around most waterbodies and can also be found away from breeding sites in grassland and woodland. It is on the wing from the end of May through to September. Damselflies do not fly as strongly as dragonflies, so tend to lay in wait for their insect prey before catching it in mid-air with their legs. They will return to their perch to eat their prey.

How to identify

The Azure damselfly is pale blue with bands of black along the body. To identify the small blue damselflies, of which there are seven species in the UK, it helps to concentrate on the pattern on the second segment of the males' abdomen, just behind the thorax. In the Azure damselfly, this segment is blue with a black U-shape.

Devon Wildlife Trust The Broad-bodied chaser is a medium-sized, broad-bodied dragonfly that is on the wing from May to July, and occasionally into August. It is a common dragonfly of ponds and small lakes. It regularly returns to the same perch after swift flights out across the water looking for insects. Mating occurs on the wing, often taking less than a minute, after which the female will find a suitable spot to lay her eggs; she hovers over the water, dipping the tip of her abdomen in and dropping her eggs on to vegetation below the surface.

How to identify

The broad, flattened body of the Broad-bodied chaser is distinctive and makes this dragonfly appear 'fat'. The male has a powder-blue body with yellow spots along the sides and a dark thorax; the female is greeny-brown. There are several medium-sized, pale blue dragonflies that can be confused. This species can be distinguished by the combination of its broad, blue body and chocolate-brown eyes.

Buglife If you go down to the woodland glade, you might be lucky enough to see a Violet oil beetle (Meloe violaceus). They began their emergence in March and will soon peak in numbers making April the perfect time to find one of these iridescent insects.


Of the four remaining species of British oil beetle, the Violet oil beetle has the most varied habitat preferences and can be found in woodland edge habitats, glades and rides, upland moorlands and on flower-rich grasslands.

Violet oil beetles have a striking appearance despite their underlying black coloration, as light is refracted off their lustrous carapace to give them a purple, blue or green sheen. When they first emerge as adults, their abdomen is small and compact but, as they gorge themselves on lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) and soft grasses, their abdomen becomes distended and can extend some way beyond the tip of their wings. They can often be found sunning themselves on paths and females are sometimes seen digging burrows in patches of bare ground, in which they lay their eggs.

Juvenile Violet oil beetles are tiny, black, louse-like creatures that emerge in spring and lie in wait on flowers for solitary mining bees that visit the flowers to collect nectar and pollen. The triungulins take advantage of the mining bees, firstly by hitching a lift on their back, and again in the bees’ nest, by eating the food so diligently collected by the bee for its own young; the beetle equivalent of a cuckoo. Despite their coercive nature, Violet oil beetles are important for conservation as they are indicators of strong mining bee populations and of high quality, wildflower-rich habitats. 

Devon Wildlife Trust A spring delight, the Wood anemone grows in dappled shade in ancient woodlands. Traditional management, such as coppicing, can help such flowers by opening up the woodland floor to sunlight. The Wood anemone is a pretty spring flower of ancient woodlands, and is also planted in graveyards, parks and gardens. Its white flowers bloom between March and May, before the canopy becomes too dense, but its seeds are mostly infertile and it spreads slowly through the growth of its roots.

How to identify

An easily recognisable flower, the Wood anemone is a low-growing plant, with six to seven large, white or purple-streaked 'petals' (which are actually its sepals), surrounding a cluster of distinctive yellow anthers. Its leaves are deeply lobed and it has a thin, red stem. 

Devon Wildlife Trust The house martin is a common summer visitor to the UK, arriving in April and leaving in October. It builds mud nests, sometimes in small colonies, under ledges, on cliffs and, as their name suggests, under the eaves of houses. Both males and females help to build the nest, collecting mud from streams and ponds and building up layers with bill-sized pellets. House martins are commonly found in towns and villages, as well as in agricultural areas. They feed on flying insects and aphids.

How to identify

The house martin is glossy black above, completely white below, and has a white rump and a short, forked tail. 

Devon Wildlife Trust The swift is a fast-flying and distinctive bird with long, curved wings. Originally nesting on cliffs and in holes in trees, it now mainly nests in buildings, such as churches, and is particularly common in older parts of towns and cities. Swifts spend the winter in Africa, with the first birds usually returning to the UK in April, though most don't arrive until May.

They feast on small flying insects and other airborne arthropods, usually catching them high up in the sky. Insects collect in a special pouch at the back of the swift's throat, where they are bound together by saliva until they form a kind of pellet known as a bolus, which can be regurgitated and fed to chicks. A single bolus can contain over 300 insects, with some holding over 1,000.

How to identify

The swift is black all over, with a small, pale patch on its throat. Looking a bit like a boomerang when in the air, it is very sociable and can often be spotted in groups wheeling over roofs and calling to each other with high-pitched screams. It is larger than swallows and martins (which have white undersides) and, unlike them, does not perch on wires, buildings or trees. 

Devon Wildlife Trust The sand martin is a common summer visitor to the UK, arriving in March and leaving in October. It nests in colonies, digging burrows in steep, sandy cliffs, usually around water, and is commonly found on wetland sites. The tunnels it bores can be up to a metre in length! At a chamber at the end of the burrow, four or five eggs are laid on collected straw and feathers. Sand martins are sociable birds and will nest together in summer and gather to roost in large numbers in autumn; eventually they migrate to Africa to spend the winter.

How to identify

Our smallest swallow, the sand martin is brown above and white below, with a brown band across its breast and a short, forked tail. 

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