Coenagrion puella (L.)   
Azure Damselfly

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Hexapoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Odonata – dragonflies & damselflies

British distribution: Widespread and often common in England and Wales, very local in Scotland.
World distribution: Europe, extending into Asia and North Africa.

Coenagrion puella, male, resting on vegetation by pool in wet heathland, New Forest, Hampshire, May 2004.

Coenagrion puella is a damselfly (suborder Zygoptera) rather than a true dragonfly (suborder Anisoptera). As is typical of suborder Zygoptera, the insect is slender, its fore- and hind-wings are similar in size and shape, and when the insect is at rest, the wings are held back aligned along the abdomen.

Like many dragonflies and damselflies, C. puella is southern in distribution in Britain, and is generally common in England and Wales. It extends into Scotland – it is one of the few damselflies that does so – but it is very local and confined to scattered localities mainly in the Forth and Clyde areas.

Identification and variation
The male, illustrated here, is conspicuously light blue, banded with black. The female is predominantly black, usually with very narrow, pale greenish bands and markings, but sometimes it is more conspicuously blue-banded. However, the details of the patterning are variable in this and in several very similar Coenagrion species, so identification requires careful reference to a well illustrated guide with analyses of critical features, such as Hammond (1985), Brooks & Lewington (2002) and/or Dijkstra & Lewington (2006).

Also very similar is the Common Blue Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum, a generally common species throughout Britain and often in the same localities as C. puella, though preferring more open water. The males look almost identical, but C. puella can be distinguished by the abdominal markings shown below:

Features to separate Coenagrion puella from Enallagma cyathigerum (males):
abdominal segment 2: black, U-shaped marking (a mushroom-shaped marking in E. cyathigerum)
abdominal segment 9: black band at posterior end (uniformly blue in E. cyathigerum).

C. puella is characteristic of water meadows, small ponds, canals and other sheltered places, with plenty of marginal or emergent vegetation. It tends to fly low over the water and, like other dragon- and damselflies, catches small insects in flight.

As with other dragonflies, the larval (nymph) stage is aquatic, a predator waiting amongst vegetation and ambushing various small invertebrates, notably midge larvae.

Remarks on dragonflies and damselflies in biodiversity assessments are given in the account of Cordulegaster boltonii.

Modern, well illustrated, information and identification guides to British species include:
•   Brooks, S., & Lewington, R. (2002). Field guide to the dragonflies and damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland, 3rd ed., British Wildlife Publishing, Hook.
•   Corbet, P.S., & Brooks, S.J. (2008). Dragonflies, Collins New Naturalist, London.
•   Dijkstra, K.-D.B., & Lewington, R. (2006). Field guide to the dragonflies of Britain and Europe including western Turkey and north-western Africa, British Wildlife Publishing, Milton on Stour.
•   Hammond, C.O. (1985). The dragonflies of Great Britain and Ireland, updated version of 2nd edition (revised by R.Merritt), Harley Books, Colchester.
•   McGeeney, A. (1986). A complete guide to British dragonflies, Jonathan Cape, London.
•   Smallshire, D., & Swash, A. (2004). Britain's dragonflies. A guide to the identification of the damselflies and dragonflies of Great Britain and Ireland, WILDGuides Ltd., Old Basing.

© A.J. Silverside
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