Sympetrum sanguineum (Müller)   
Ruddy Darter

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

British distribution: Primarily in southern and eastern England but has extended its range north and west in recent years. Also an immigrant from the continent, resulting in scattered records outside its breeding range.
World distribution: Widespread in Europe; northern Asia; northern Africa.

Sympetrum sanguineum, male
Sympetrum sanguineum male, Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire, September 2004.

Sympetrum sanguineum is a true dragonfly (i.e. a member of the suborder Anisoptera, rather than the suborder Zygoptera, the damselflies). It closely resembles the widespread and common S. striolatum but is generally a much scarcer and more localised insect.

Identification and variation
Like most other Sympetrum species, the mature male has a red abdomen, while females and immature males are dull yellowish. The male has a more distinctly narrowed upper abdomen than in related species and, when mature, its abdomen is also a brighter red with distinct, black markings. The legs are uniformly black in both sexes, whereas in similar species the legs are striped with yellow, albeit inconspicuously so.

Identification of Sympetrum species, especially of the females, is not always easy and requires reference to a well illustrated guide with analyses of critical features, as in Hammond (1985), Brooks & Lewington (2002) or Dijkstra & Lewington (2006). Facial and genital characters can be important for certain confirmation and are given in the guides mentioned. Variation in this species is illustrated photographically by Smallshire and Swash (2004).

S. sanguineum shows a preference for waterbodies with much marginal vegetation.

Habitat of Sympetrum sanguineum, Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire.

It was noted in Hammond (1985) as a declining species in eastern England through habitat loss, but in recent years it has also extended its British range considerably, both westwards and northwards. In the past century it has also become widespread in Ireland, where it was previously unknown. As with any species showing such range extensions, it is tempting to invoke 'global warming' as a factor, though its wide occurrence in Europe, extending into Siberia (Dijkstra & Lewington, 2006), suggests that it has a broad tolerance of climatic factors.

As with other dragonflies, the larval (nymph) stage is aquatic, a predator that preferentially lurks amongst the tangled roots of plants such as Reedmace (Typha) and Horsetail (Equisetum) (Hammond, op. cit.).

Remarks on dragonflies 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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