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.
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
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).
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.