By James Duncan
Learning and Engagement Officer
Could there be a more festive species of Dragonfly than the Golden-ringed, Cordulegaster boltonii - fitting in rather nicely on day five of the 'Twelve Days of Christmas.' Admittedly, if one was to split hairs, the number of 'golden rings' possessed by this magnificent member of the Order Odonata isn't actually five, whilst it certainly won't be spotted within the festive period. It is, however, one of the most strikingly unmistakable Dragonflies to be seen in Sussex. In fact, we're rather lucky to receive the Golden-ringed Dragonfly at all, for it's largely a species of Western Britain. Its distribution across Sussex sees it breeding in acidic running waters, usually within heathland and woodland across the High Weald. Don't, however, be surprised to see this species well away from the water, often hunting low over heather, gorse and bracken. They have a rather useful tendency to perch, particularly when consuming prey, often allowing for a close-up look at their distinctive banded body and piercing green eyes.
Golden-ringed Dragonfly © Alan Gillham
With females topping out at over 8cm, the Golden-ringed Dragonfly may even exceed the fearsome Emperor Dragonfly in length. Over 300 million years of ancestral lineage has enabled this aerial overlord powers in flight that'd shame the most advanced of fighter aircraft. Their size and power dictate that smaller dragonflies, damselflies, bees, wasps and beetles all fall prey to its voracious appetite. When not feeding, males will aggressively defend their breeding territories against the intrusion of unwelcome rivals, a clashing spectacle that results in epic displays of acceleration and agility. With calm restored, slow patrols will resume just centimetres above the water's surface with one thing in mind - 'grabbing' a female. Once a suitable prospect has been sighted, males waste little time in using their legs as a 'catching basket', quickly manoeuvring the females into a stable clasping position. Now in 'tandem', copulation will commence once the male has carried her to suitable vegetation.
Amongst dragonflies, there are typically two methods for egg-laying, or ovipositing. The first involves laying eggs within or atop emergent or floating vegetation, using the blade-like ovipositor to ensure safe storage for the eggs. The second involves the casual flicking of eggs directly into the water, a somewhat haphazard but effective strategy. The Golden-ringed Dragonfly, as the only British member of its genus, does things a little bit differently. The female will assume a position more representative of a pogo-stick and stab her abdomen directly into the sediment, releasing an egg each time. Though not commonly witnessed, it's a fabulous sight to behold. Though egg development occurs rapidly, within weeks, the larvae may spend up to five years underwater, ruthlessly ambushing any aquatic invertebrates that dare to get too close. Once they eventually emerge as adults they'll be on the wing throughout summer, the perfect time to get out into Sussex to observe those golden rings.