Sussex Dragonfly Group

Azure Damselfly (Common Coenagrion)
Coenagrion puella (Linnaeus, 1758)
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Suborder: Zygoptera
Family: Coenagrionidae

Azure Damselfly
(Common Coenagrion)
Coenagrion puella

Suborder: Zygoptera
Family: Coenagrionidae

One of our commonest species, most likely to be found in garden ponds and other small, sheltered water habitats, especially those with plentiful aquatic vegetation. Males are a pale sky-blue with black markings. There is also a distinguishing U shape on the second segment of the abdomen. Females occur in two forms - one (90% of females) is dark with greenish markings on the thorax and abdomen, the other is blue.

Coenagrion puella
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Male
Photo: Simon Linington
Coenagrion puella
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Male
Photo: Simon Linington
Coenagrion puella
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Male
Photo: Simon Linington
Coenagrion puella
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Female
Photo: David Sadler
Coenagrion puella
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Teneral female
Photo: Simon Linington
Coenagrion puella
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Pair in mating wheel
Photo: Simon Linington
Coenagrion puella
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Pair in tandem
Photo: Simon Linington
Coenagrion puella
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Ovipositing pairs
Photo: David Sadler

More images

National status
Very common throughout Britain except the northern half of Scotland.

Status in Sussex
Very well distributed across the whole of the county. The gaps in distribution in parts of Sussex probably reflect a lack of recording rather than a genuine absence. This probably also accounts for a reduction of records on Pevensey Levels in the two decades up to 2020.

Distribution at 1km scale

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

Historical records
All historical data appear to match present day findings concerning the widespread distribution of this species. Chelmick noted that it was “generally the most common blue damselfly in base or neutral waters” which is borne out in many of the records. However, the size of water body is probably an influencing factor (larger lakes favouring the Common Blue Damselfly) and at some sites, for example at Pevensey Levels, the Azure is less common than the Variable Damselfly.

Flight times
Late April - early September. This species has been noted on the wing up to a fortnight earlier during the two decades up to 2020.

Phenology (adult)

Coenagrion puella phenology (all)
Coenagrion puella phenology pre 1980
Coenagrion puella phenology 1980 - 1989
Coenagrion puella phenology 1990 - 1999
Coenagrion puella phenology 2000 - 2009
Coenagrion puella phenology 2010 - 2019
Coenagrion puella phenology 2010 on
Coenagrion puella habitat
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Azure Damselfly habitat at Wakehurst Place
Photo: Simon Linington

Habitat
A wide range such as garden ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, ditches and farm ponds. Sheltered, smaller sites are preferred, with a good range of emergent and marginal vegetation.

Conservation
Overzealous clearance of pond plants could threaten local populations, as would cutting down of marginal vegetation if this significantly reduced shelter. This species is a ready coloniser of new garden ponds.

Coenagrion puella similar species
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Photos: Simon Linington
Coenagrion puella similar species
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Photos: David Sadler
Coenagrion puella similar species
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Photos: David Sadler

Similar species
Males. Leaving aside Southern and Dainty Damselflies (which have never been recorded but which may one day be found colonising Sussex) confusion is only really likely with Common Blue Damselfly, Variable Damselfly, and just possibly Blue-tailed Damselfly. The latter although similar in some respects to the Azure on the thorax has a blackish abdomen with a clear blue band near the tip and bicoloured (instead of uniformly dark) wing spots or pterostigma, so can quickly be ruled out.

Separating Azure, Common Blue and Variable Damselflies is relatively straightforward with a bit of care (see also the photographic comparison). Three features are important in identification:
 (a) The thorax. If the antehumeral blue stripes are thick and fill more than half the thorax it is a Common Blue, thin stripes indicate Azure while broken lines (exclamation marks) indicate Variable. Azure has a small dark spur marking on the side of the thorax which is absent in the Common Blue. Variable tends to be a slightly deeper blue coloration compared to the other two species.
 (b) Abdominal segment 2 (just behind the thorax). Common Blue Damselfly has a black club- or mushroom-shaped mark, Azure has a ‘U’-shaped one while Variable has one shaped like a goblet or wine-glass.
 (c) Abdominal segments 8 & 9 (at the ‘tail end’). Common Blue has totally blue segments. Azure has a small amount of black (a bit like a ‘bow tie’) on segment 9 and Variable has a large amount of black filling most of the segment 9 (shaped a bit like a ‘bat’).

Females. These are trickier to identify than the males (see also photographic comparison). Obviously, any accompanying males will aid identification. Female Azure Damselflies can be found in a variety of colours including green and blue. The range of species with which female Azure Damselflies might be confused include the Common Blue Damselfly and Variable Damselfly but extends to female Blue-tailed Damselfly, Red-eyed Damselfly, Small Red-eyed Damselfly and, at a push, the black (melanotum) form of the Large Red Damselfly (though the latter has reddish eyes and should be fairly easily discounted). Female Blue-tailed Damselflies occur in several forms but nearly all have blue or an indication of some colour on segment 8 of an otherwise dark abdomen (upper surface). The female Red-eyed Damselfly appears quite greenish and has very short pale antehumeral stripes on top of the thorax. It tends to have brownish eyes. The female Small Red-eyed has complete pale antehumeral stripes and a paler eye colour than the female Red-eyed. It can best be distinguished from females of Azure, Common Blue and Variable Damselflies by the absence of pale spots behind the eyes (post-ocular spots). Separating the females of Azure from Common Blue is best done by reference to the markings on the thorax much as in males. A very close view or photo should reveal that the female Common Blue has a small spine below abdominal segment 8 that is absent in Azure and other similar species. The black markings at the top of the abdomen (segment 2) tend to differ between Azure, Common Blue and Variable. All are a bit thistle-head-like with Variable the broadest. However, there is some variation. The female Variable Damselflies often have a marked amount of bright blue patterning along the abdomen though this feature is shared with some Azure Damselflies and really the only safe identification is the shape of the rear edge of the plate (the pronotum) behind the head. The Variable has a distinctly three-lobed edge whereas in Azure the lobes are much less pronounced.

Young (teneral) insects of these species have a washed-out colour that can pose identification problems but the underlying patterns such as width of the antehumeral stripes can normally be discerned.

Habitat is an additional helpful pointer. Common Blue Damselflies tend to frequent larger lakes whereas Azure Damselflies are very much at home on small garden ponds. Variable is much more selective, requiring dense vegetation such as that at the edge of wet ditches and it is significantly more restricted in distribution.

One of our commonest species, most likely to be found in garden ponds and other small, sheltered water habitats, especially those with plentiful aquatic vegetation. Males are a pale sky-blue with black markings. There is also a distinguishing U shape on the second segment of the abdomen. Females occur in two forms - one (90% of females) is dark with greenish markings on the thorax and abdomen, the other is blue.

Coenagrion puella
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Male
Photo: Simon Linington
Coenagrion puella
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Male
Photo: Simon Linington
Coenagrion puella
3 / 8
Male
Photo: Simon Linington
Coenagrion puella
4 / 8
Female
Photo: David Sadler
Coenagrion puella
5 / 8
Teneral female
Photo: Simon Linington
Coenagrion puella
6 / 8
Pair in mating wheel
Photo: Simon Linington
Coenagrion puella
7 / 8
Pair in tandem
Photo: Simon Linington
Coenagrion puella
8 / 8
Ovipositing pairs
Photo: David Sadler

National status
Very common throughout Britain except the northern half of Scotland.

Status in Sussex
Very well distributed across the whole of the county. The gaps in distribution in parts of Sussex probably reflect a lack of recording rather than a genuine absence. This probably also accounts for a reduction of records on Pevensey Levels in the two decades up to 2020.

Distribution at 1km scale

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

Historical records
All historical data appear to match present day findings concerning the widespread distribution of this species. Chelmick noted that it was “generally the most common blue damselfly in base or neutral waters” which is borne out in many of the records. However, the size of water body is probably an influencing factor (larger lakes favouring the Common Blue Damselfly) and at some sites, for example at Pevensey Levels, the Azure is less common than the Variable Damselfly.

Flight times
Late April - early September. This species has been noted on the wing up to a fortnight earlier during the two decades up to 2020.

Phenology (adult)

Coenagrion puella phenology (all)
Coenagrion puella phenology pre 1980
Coenagrion puella phenology 1980 - 1989
Coenagrion puella phenology 1990 - 1999
Coenagrion puella phenology 2000 - 2009
Coenagrion puella phenology 2010 - 2019
Coenagrion puella phenology 2020 on
Coenagrion puella habitat
1 / 1
Azure Damselfly habitat at Wakehurst Place
Photo: Simon Linington

Habitat
A wide range such as garden ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, ditches and farm ponds. Sheltered, smaller sites are preferred, with a good range of emergent and marginal vegetation.

Conservation
Overzealous clearance of pond plants could threaten local populations, as would cutting down of marginal vegetation if this significantly reduced shelter. This species is a ready coloniser of new garden ponds.

Coenagrion puella similar species
1 / 3
Photos: Simon Linington
Coenagrion puella similar species
2 / 3
Photos: David Sadler
Coenagrion puella similar species
3 / 3
Photos: David Sadler

Similar species
Males. Leaving aside Southern and Dainty Damselflies (which have never been recorded but which may one day be found colonising Sussex) confusion is only really likely with Common Blue Damselfly, Variable Damselfly, and just possibly Blue-tailed Damselfly. The latter although similar in some respects to the Azure on the thorax has a blackish abdomen with a clear blue band near the tip and bicoloured (instead of uniformly dark) wing spots or pterostigma, so can quickly be ruled out.

Separating Azure, Common Blue and Variable Damselflies is relatively straightforward with a bit of care (see also the photographic comparison). Three features are important in identification:
 (a) The thorax. If the antehumeral blue stripes are thick and fill more than half the thorax it is a Common Blue, thin stripes indicate Azure while broken lines (exclamation marks) indicate Variable. Azure has a small dark spur marking on the side of the thorax which is absent in the Common Blue. Variable tends to be a slightly deeper blue coloration compared to the other two species.
 (b) Abdominal segment 2 (just behind the thorax). Common Blue Damselfly has a black club- or mushroom-shaped mark, Azure has a ‘U’-shaped one while Variable has one shaped like a goblet or wine-glass.
 (c) Abdominal segments 8 & 9 (at the ‘tail end’). Common Blue has totally blue segments. Azure has a small amount of black (a bit like a ‘bow tie’) on segment 9 and Variable has a large amount of black filling most of the segment 9 (shaped a bit like a ‘bat’).

Females. These are trickier to identify than the males (see also photographic comparison). Obviously, any accompanying males will aid identification. Female Azure Damselflies can be found in a variety of colours including green and blue. The range of species with which female Azure Damselflies might be confused include the Common Blue Damselfly and Variable Damselfly but extends to female Blue-tailed Damselfly, Red-eyed Damselfly, Small Red-eyed Damselfly and, at a push, the black (melanotum) form of the Large Red Damselfly (though the latter has reddish eyes and should be fairly easily discounted). Female Blue-tailed Damselflies occur in several forms but nearly all have blue or an indication of some colour on segment 8 of an otherwise dark abdomen (upper surface). The female Red-eyed Damselfly appears quite greenish and has very short pale antehumeral stripes on top of the thorax. It tends to have brownish eyes. The female Small Red-eyed has complete pale antehumeral stripes and a paler eye colour than the female Red-eyed. It can best be distinguished from females of Azure, Common Blue and Variable Damselflies by the absence of pale spots behind the eyes (post-ocular spots). Separating the females of Azure from Common Blue is best done by reference to the markings on the thorax much as in males. A very close view or photo should reveal that the female Common Blue has a small spine below abdominal segment 8 that is absent in Azure and other similar species. The black markings at the top of the abdomen (segment 2) tend to differ between Azure, Common Blue and Variable. All are a bit thistle-head-like with Variable the broadest. However, there is some variation. The female Variable Damselflies often have a marked amount of bright blue patterning along the abdomen though this feature is shared with some Azure Damselflies and really the only safe identification is the shape of the rear edge of the plate (the pronotum) behind the head. The Variable has a distinctly three-lobed edge whereas in Azure the lobes are much less pronounced.

Young (teneral) insects of these species have a washed-out colour that can pose identification problems but the underlying patterns such as width of the antehumeral stripes can normally be discerned.

Habitat is an additional helpful pointer. Common Blue Damselflies tend to frequent larger lakes whereas Azure Damselflies are very much at home on small garden ponds. Variable is much more selective, requiring dense vegetation such as that at the edge of wet ditches and it is significantly more restricted in distribution.