Sussex Dragonfly Group

Variable Damselfly (Variable Coenagrion)
Coenagrion pulchellum (Vander Linden, 1825)
« Coenagrion puella | Coenagrion scitulum »

Suborder: Zygoptera
Family: Coenagrionidae

Variable Damselfly
(Variable Coenagrion)
Coenagrion pulchellum

Suborder: Zygoptera
Family: Coenagrionidae

At first glance this very variable species is easily confused with our other two bright blue damselflies (the Azure and Common Blue Damselfly). However, its limited range means this is the least likely to be seen. The ‘exclamation mark’ stripes along the thorax and the ‘wine glass’ marking at the start of the abdomen in the male Variable are a help, as is the darker blue when observed with the other species. The female has two forms: one is similar to the male, but with a richer blue; the other is dark, with greenish-yellow markings on the sides.

Coenagrion pulchellum
1 / 4

Photo: David Sadler
Coenagrion pulchellum
2 / 4
female
Photo: David Sadler
Coenagrion pulchellum
3 / 4
male
Photo: Simon Linington
Coenagrion pulchellum
4 / 4
male
Photo: Simon Linington

More images

National status
Scattered and uncommon in mainland Britain, with greatest concentrations in parts of the south and east. In these areas, however, given the right habitat, it can occur in large numbers.

Status in Sussex
Scarce apart from on the Pevensey Levels and, to a lesser extent, Amberley Wildbrooks. However, the scattering of occasional records across the county suggests that this species may be under-recorded; if in doubt, recorders may have opted to exclude it from their list of sightings, as it is the rarest of the blue damselflies and is listed in the Sussex Rare Species Inventory.

Distribution at 1km scale

Coenagrion pulchellum distribution (all)
Coenagrion pulchellum distribution pre 1980
Coenagrion pulchellum distribution 1980 - 1989
Coenagrion pulchellum distribution 1990 - 1999
Coenagrion pulchellum distribution 2000 - 2009
Coenagrion pulchellum distribution 2010 - 2019
Coenagrion pulchellum distribution 2010 on

Historical records
W. Unwin is quoted by Lucas and Bloomfield (1905) and others as having recorded this species near the Winterbourne and elsewhere near Lewes. N. Moore reported it to be a plentiful species in the Ouse Valley north of Lewes in 1945, but it was not recorded in the 1965-1978 survey (Chelmick 1979) or in this one, although both highlight its presence in the Ouse Brooks south of Lewes. Dannreuther (1945) listed this species as “unrecorded in West Sussex”. Surprisingly, what is now regarded as its West Sussex stronghold at Amberley Wildbrooks was not discovered until F. Penfold found two there in 1962 (Chelmick 1979).

Flight times
Mid April - early August. In the two decades since the Millennium, the first flight date has moved forward by nearly a month.

Phenology (adult)

Coenagrion pulchellum phenology (all)
Coenagrion pulchellum phenology pre 1980
Coenagrion pulchellum phenology 1980 - 1989
Coenagrion pulchellum phenology 1990 - 1999
Coenagrion pulchellum phenology 2000 - 2009
Coenagrion pulchellum phenology 2010 - 2019
Coenagrion pulchellum phenology 2010 on
Coenagrion pulchellum habitat
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Variable Damselfly habitat at Pevensey Levels
Photo: Fran Southgate

Habitat
Fens, water meadows, marshes and shallow ponds; also slow-moving water as in dykes and canals. At Pond Lye near Burgess Hill and Ashburnham Park near Burwash found at the edge of shallow lakes with a very dense and wide emergent vegetation margin dominated by Iris and Typha. (D. Chelmick pers. comm.).

Conservation
Its favoured habitat in Sussex is traditionally managed grazing pasture and associated ditches, where the water level is high and there is a good range of aquatic and marginal plants. The key practical conservation measure is sympathetic rotational ditch management, but lobbying for more sustainable agriculture practices is critical at policy level.

Similar species
See Azure Damselfly for key differences from similar species and comparative photos.

At first glance this very variable species is easily confused with our other two bright blue damselflies (the Azure and Common Blue Damselfly). However, its limited range means this is the least likely to be seen. The ‘exclamation mark’ stripes along the thorax and the ‘wine glass’ marking at the start of the abdomen in the male Variable are a help, as is the darker blue when observed with the other species. The female has two forms: one is similar to the male, but with a richer blue; the other is dark, with greenish-yellow markings on the sides.

Coenagrion pulchellum
1 / 4

Photo: David Sadler
Coenagrion pulchellum
2 / 4
female
Photo: David Sadler
Coenagrion pulchellum
3 / 4
male
Photo: Simon Linington
Coenagrion pulchellum
4 / 4
male
Photo: Simon Linington

National status
Scattered and uncommon in mainland Britain, with greatest concentrations in parts of the south and east. In these areas, however, given the right habitat, it can occur in large numbers.

Status in Sussex
Scarce apart from on the Pevensey Levels and, to a lesser extent, Amberley Wildbrooks. However, the scattering of occasional records across the county suggests that this species may be under-recorded; if in doubt, recorders may have opted to exclude it from their list of sightings, as it is the rarest of the blue damselflies and is listed in the Sussex Rare Species Inventory.

Distribution at 1km scale

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

Historical records
W. Unwin is quoted by Lucas and Bloomfield (1905) and others as having recorded this species near the Winterbourne and elsewhere near Lewes. N. Moore reported it to be a plentiful species in the Ouse Valley north of Lewes in 1945, but it was not recorded in the 1965-1978 survey (Chelmick 1979) or in this one, although both highlight its presence in the Ouse Brooks south of Lewes. Dannreuther (1945) listed this species as “unrecorded in West Sussex”. Surprisingly, what is now regarded as its West Sussex stronghold at Amberley Wildbrooks was not discovered until F. Penfold found two there in 1962 (Chelmick 1979).

Flight times
Mid April - early August. In the two decades since the Millennium, the first flight date has moved forward by nearly a month.

Phenology (adult)

Coenagrion pulchellum phenology (all)
Coenagrion pulchellum phenology pre 1980
Coenagrion pulchellum phenology 1980 - 1989
Coenagrion pulchellum phenology 1990 - 1999
Coenagrion pulchellum phenology 2000 - 2009
Coenagrion pulchellum phenology 2010 - 2019
Coenagrion pulchellum phenology 2020 on
Coenagrion pulchellum habitat
1 / 1
Variable Damselfly habitat at Pevensey Levels
Photo: Fran Southgate

Habitat
Fens, water meadows, marshes and shallow ponds; also slow-moving water as in dykes and canals. At Pond Lye near Burgess Hill and Ashburnham Park near Burwash found at the edge of shallow lakes with a very dense and wide emergent vegetation margin dominated by Iris and Typha. (D. Chelmick pers. comm.).

Conservation
Its favoured habitat in Sussex is traditionally managed grazing pasture and associated ditches, where the water level is high and there is a good range of aquatic and marginal plants. The key practical conservation measure is sympathetic rotational ditch management, but lobbying for more sustainable agriculture practices is critical at policy level.

Similar species
See Azure Damselfly for key differences from similar species and comparative photos.