Ancient beauties

PUBLISHED: 17:44 28 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:47 20 February 2013

Ancient beauties

Ancient beauties

Dragonflies used to swoop, dive and roll around the heads of the dinosaurs...

On a warm summer day beside ponds and streams you will see some of the most ancient creatures in the world. They dart and flit with astonishing aerobatic skill. Flying sideways, backwards and forwards, their lacy wings and iridescently coloured bodies shimmer in the sunshine.

These are dragonflies, and theyve been doing this for more than 300 million years!

The heathland of the Berkshire/Hampshire border is a hotspot for dragonflies. There are at least 23 different species living on Decoy Heath, a small nature reserve near Aldermaston managed by the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust.

For Dr Kate Dent, Head of Conservation and Education for Berkshire, who took the photographs on this page, dragonflies are always fascinating.

Its because theyre so ancient and relatively unchanged over millions and millions of years. Their ancestors had wingspans of almost a metre when they were flying through the forests in the Carboniferous period. They were clattering about with the dinosaurs, and now we see their smaller descendents flitting about our garden ponds and rivers.

Only dragonflies have 360-degree vision all the time from their compound eyes. They can see colour, and use the eyes on top of their heads to work out their flight path, and when to dive, roll or fly backwards or sideways.

For such fragile-looking creatures they have extraordinarily strong and large flight muscles. Their wings twist in flight, rotating in a figure-of-eight movement. Dragonflies are among the speediest and most manoeuvrable insects and can fly at speeds of up to 36km/hour.

With gorgeous names like Downy Emerald, Ruddy Darter and Broad-bodied Chaser, and their highly coloured bodies, often electric blue or green, dragonflies are well worth looking out for. Theres more information about these and other insects on the Species A to Z on

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