Sussex Dragonfly Group

Small Red Damselfly
Ceriagrion tenellum (de Villers, 1789)
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Suborder: Zygoptera
Family: Coenagrionidae

Small Red Damselfly
Ceriagrion tenellum

Suborder: Zygoptera
Family: Coenagrionidae

This national rarity is confined in Sussex to small, acid heathland bogs, mainly on Ashdown Forest. Small, delicate and weak-flying, it is hard to spot as it hovers over mats of Sphagnum moss. Except for a blackish thorax, males are almost entirely red, including the legs. The female occurs in three forms, the most common resembling the male.

Ceriagrion tenellum
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male
Photo: David Sadler
Ceriagrion tenellum
2 / 7
female
Photo: Simon Linington
Ceriagrion tenellum
3 / 7
teneral female
Photo: David Sadler
Ceriagrion tenellum
4 / 7
female
Photo: David Sadler
Ceriagrion tenellum
5 / 7
pair in tandem
Photo: Simon Linington
Ceriagrion tenellum
6 / 7
mating
Photo: David Sadler
Ceriagrion tenellum
7 / 7
f. melanogastrum
Photo: David Sadler

More images

National status
Rare, restricted to southern England and west Wales.

Status in Sussex
Overall rare and centred on Ashdown Forest. In the decade since 2010 only otherwise recorded at Wiggonholt Common and Broadwater Warren. There were a few records elsewhere in the decade prior to 2010. Listed in the Sussex Rare Species Inventory.

Distribution at 1km scale

Ceriagrion tenellum distribution (all)
Ceriagrion tenellum distribution pre 1980
Ceriagrion tenellum distribution 1980 - 1989
Ceriagrion tenellum distribution 1990 - 1999
Ceriagrion tenellum distribution 2000 - 2009
Ceriagrion tenellum distribution 2010 - 2019
Ceriagrion tenellum distribution 2010 on

Historical records
First recorded in Sussex near Liphook at the end of the nineteenth century, it was still there during the mid 1970s (Chelmick 1979). A specimen was taken by Guermonprez at West Chiltington on 11 September 1917 (Dannreuther 1945). There were no sightings in what is thought to be the same area during the 1970s and 1980s, but the species was ‘rediscovered’ there in 1990, and re-emerged after several very dry years in 1995 (Chelmick 1997). Stated as “abundant” in the Tunbridge Wells and Crowborough areas in 1908, it was not found there between 1932 and 1938, although N. Moore recorded “many in coitu” on 9 August 1947 (HESN 1948) in the Crowborough area. At one site in that area, where it was recorded in 1947, only one individual was recorded in 1991. There is a report of four near Beckley by J. Ashbee on 18 May 1974 (HESN 1975) which Chelmick (1979) suggested were vagrants. However, the group of recent records in Ashdown Forest had very little historical background before Chelmick (1979). Fowles (1985) found the Small Red “on a series of small boggy pools in the Chelwood Gate area”. Marrable (1999) reported its loss from two of Fowles’s sites and its arrival at a new pond prepared for it. Since then it has also colonised a further pool a kilometre away from these others. Within the ancient Pale of Ashdown Forest the species is also present at the Sussex Wildlife Trust Old Lodge reserve (on four ponds in 2003) and in the Pippingford Ministry of Defence training area.

Flight times
Late June - early September. There is some suggestion that flight times have moved from early to late June in the decade up to 2020 though this may relate to lack of reporting.

Phenology (adult)

Ceriagrion tenellum phenology (all)
Ceriagrion tenellum phenology pre 1980
Ceriagrion tenellum phenology 1980 - 1989
Ceriagrion tenellum phenology 1990 - 1999
Ceriagrion tenellum phenology 2000 - 2009
Ceriagrion tenellum phenology 2010 - 2019
Ceriagrion tenellum phenology 2010 on
Ceriagrion tenellum habitat
1 / 1
Small Red Damselfly habitat at Old Lodge, Ashdown Forest (drought affected pond in Aug 2020)
Photo: Simon Linington

Habitat
Only heathland bogs and pools, usually edged with Sphagnum moss.

Conservation
Chelmick (1979) feared that, without conservation action, the species “will soon be extinct” in Sussex. The clearing of over-shadowing scrub from pool-side edges, and the creation of new ponds near existing populations, are clearly benefiting the species on Ashdown Forest. Scrub clearance and wetland creation at Hurston Warren does not appear to have benefited the Small Red with no recent records. While climate change may bring warmer conditions favourable for this Mediterranean species, longer, drier summers could also dry out the pools where it breeds.

Similar species
Confusion is really only likely with the Large Red Damselfly. See under that species for the differences.

This national rarity is confined in Sussex to small, acid heathland bogs, mainly on Ashdown Forest. Small, delicate and weak-flying, it is hard to spot as it hovers over mats of Sphagnum moss. Except for a blackish thorax, males are almost entirely red, including the legs. The female occurs in three forms, the most common resembling the male.

Ceriagrion tenellum
1 / 7
male
Photo: David Sadler
Ceriagrion tenellum
2 / 7
female
Photo: Simon Linington
Ceriagrion tenellum
3 / 7
teneral female
Photo: David Sadler
Ceriagrion tenellum
4 / 7
female
Photo: David Sadler
Ceriagrion tenellum
5 / 7
pair in tandem
Photo: Simon Linington
Ceriagrion tenellum
6 / 7
mating
Photo: David Sadler
Ceriagrion tenellum
7 / 7
f. melanogastrum
Photo: David Sadler

National status
Rare, restricted to southern England and west Wales.

Status in Sussex
Overall rare and centred on Ashdown Forest. In the decade since 2010 only otherwise recorded at Wiggonholt Common and Broadwater Warren. There were a few records elsewhere in the decade prior to 2010. Listed in the Sussex Rare Species Inventory.

Distribution at 1km scale

Ceriagrion tenellum distribution (all)
Ceriagrion tenellum distribution bre 1980
Ceriagrion tenellum distribution 1980 - 1989
Ceriagrion tenellum distribution 1990 - 1999
Ceriagrion tenellum distribution 2000 - 2009
Ceriagrion tenellum distribution 2010 - 2019
Ceriagrion tenellum distribution 2020 on

Historical records
First recorded in Sussex near Liphook at the end of the nineteenth century, it was still there during the mid 1970s (Chelmick 1979). A specimen was taken by Guermonprez at West Chiltington on 11 September 1917 (Dannreuther 1945). There were no sightings in what is thought to be the same area during the 1970s and 1980s, but the species was ‘rediscovered’ there in 1990, and re-emerged after several very dry years in 1995 (Chelmick 1997). Stated as “abundant” in the Tunbridge Wells and Crowborough areas in 1908, it was not found there between 1932 and 1938, although N. Moore recorded “many in coitu” on 9 August 1947 (HESN 1948) in the Crowborough area. At one site in that area, where it was recorded in 1947, only one individual was recorded in 1991. There is a report of four near Beckley by J. Ashbee on 18 May 1974 (HESN 1975) which Chelmick (1979) suggested were vagrants. However, the group of recent records in Ashdown Forest had very little historical background before Chelmick (1979). Fowles (1985) found the Small Red “on a series of small boggy pools in the Chelwood Gate area”. Marrable (1999) reported its loss from two of Fowles’s sites and its arrival at a new pond prepared for it. Since then it has also colonised a further pool a kilometre away from these others. Within the ancient Pale of Ashdown Forest the species is also present at the Sussex Wildlife Trust Old Lodge reserve (on four ponds in 2003) and in the Pippingford Ministry of Defence training area.

Flight times
Late June - early September. There is some suggestion that flight times have moved from early to late June in the decade up to 2020 though this may relate to lack of reporting.

Phenology (adult)

Ceriagrion tenellum phenology (all)
Ceriagrion tenellum phenology pre 1980
Ceriagrion tenellum phenology 1980 - 1989
Ceriagrion tenellum phenology 1990 - 1999
Ceriagrion tenellum phenology 2000 - 2009
Ceriagrion tenellum phenology 2010 - 2019
Ceriagrion tenellum phenology 2020 on
Ceriagrion tenellum habitat
1 / 1
Small Red Damselfly habitat at Old Lodge, Ashdown Forest (drought affected pond in Aug 2020)
Photo: Simon Linington

Habitat
Only heathland bogs and pools, usually edged with Sphagnum moss.

Conservation
Chelmick (1979) feared that, without conservation action, the species “will soon be extinct” in Sussex. The clearing of over-shadowing scrub from pool-side edges, and the creation of new ponds near existing populations, are clearly benefiting the species on Ashdown Forest. Scrub clearance and wetland creation at Hurston Warren does not appear to have benefited the Small Red with no recent records. While climate change may bring warmer conditions favourable for this Mediterranean species, longer, drier summers could also dry out the pools where it breeds.

Similar species
Confusion is really only likely with the Large Red Damselfly. See under that species for the differences.