Sussex Dragonfly Group

White-legged Damselfly
Platycnemis pennipes (Pallas, 1771)
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Suborder: Zygoptera
Family: Platycnemididae

White-legged Damselfly
Platycnemis pennipes

Suborder: Zygoptera
Family: Platycnemididae

This very pale-coloured damselfly - teneral insects are off-white and look like flying matchsticks, the males are blue with distinctive creamy-white legs and the females are green - is found in a limited number of places in Sussex. Where it does occur, however, typically in slow-flowing rivers, it can occur in abundance. It is a good pollution indicator.

Platycnemis pennipes
1 / 6
Male
Photo: David Sadler
Platycnemis pennipes
2 / 6
Male
Photo: Simon Linington
Platycnemis pennipes
3 / 6
Female
Photo: David Sadler
Platycnemis pennipes
4 / 6
Young female f. lactea
Photo: Simon Linington
Platycnemis pennipes
5 / 6
Pair in tandem
Photo: Simon Linington
Platycnemis pennipes
6 / 6
Ovipositing
Photo: David Sadler

More images

National status
Uncommon south of a line from the Wash, though can be locally abundant.

Status in Sussex
Predominantly found across the High and Low Weald, where it can be locally abundant, and well distributed along sections of the upper Arun and mid-Sussex Adur. Appears to be consolidating its range particularly in the centre and east of the county. There appears to be some contraction in range along the southern Arun and among its few localities to the west of the Arun. It is listed in the Sussex Rare Species Inventory.

Distribution at 1km scale

Platycnemis pennipes distribution (all)
Platycnemis pennipes distribution pre 1980
Platycnemis pennipes distribution 1980 - 1989
Platycnemis pennipes distribution 1990 - 1999
Platycnemis pennipes distribution 2000 - 2009
Platycnemis pennipes distribution 2010 - 2019
Platycnemis pennipes distribution 2010 on

Historical records
Unwin (1853) reported seeing a single specimen on the Lewes Downs in 1849. Chelmick (1979) suggested that its usual haunts were the Arun, Adur and Cuckmere. He also pointed out that this species has otherwise been absent from the Ouse, but the survey for the Dragonflies of Sussex (2004) confirms evidence in the Low Weald section. Dannreuther (1939) mentioned only three or four recorded below Robertsbridge on the river Rother in 1931-1932 by H. Attlee. The wider distribution shown now by the survey for the Dragonflies of Sussex (2004) suggests that either it has been under-recorded, or it may be extending its range. For example, Chelmick (1979) found no trace of the species on the eastern Rother, where it now occurs, although it certainly cannot be described as “plentiful” as he mentioned it was in the 1930s and 1940s.

Flight times
Late May - mid August though there is evidence that the species is extending its flight times at both ends of the period.

Phenology (adult)

Platycnemis pennipes phenology (all)
Platycnemis pennipes phenology pre 1980
Platycnemis pennipes phenology 1980 - 1989
Platycnemis pennipes phenology 1990 - 1999
Platycnemis pennipes phenology 2000 - 2009
Platycnemis pennipes phenology 2010 - 2019
Platycnemis pennipes phenology 2010 on
Platycnemis pennipes habitat
1 / 1
White legged Damselfly habitat at Wakehurst Place reedswamp
Photo: Simon Linington

Habitat
Unpolluted and well-vegetated, slow-moving rivers and streams; occasionally in lakes and ponds. Chelmick (1979) made the point about two distinct habitats: rivers on the (Low) Weald Clay, and lakes with streams on the Ashdown Beds (High Weald). This pattern is evident on our map, though recent records have added further sites, which makes this split a little too simplistic. An interesting feature of this species in Sussex (as has been reported elsewhere; see Cham 2003) is its occurrence on lakes and ponds. Research is needed to determine the apparent significance of this preference.

Conservation
Vulnerable to pollution, this species has its strongholds in Sussex where there is plentiful mature vegetation and clean flowing waters. Insensitive or extensive vegetation clearance is a threat. Chelmick (1979) noted that the White-legged Damselfly can occur in large numbers on fields surrounding lakes and rivers. Any such fields adjacent to our larger water-bodies should therefore be incorporated into conservation management plans.

Similar species
There should be few problems identifying this species though beware that some other damselflies may have pale legs. Apart from the obviously broad, white legs, key features are the two pairs of antehumeral stripes over the thorax and the pale brown pterostigma (wing spots).

This very pale-coloured damselfly - teneral insects are off-white and look like flying matchsticks, the males are blue with distinctive creamy-white legs and the females are green - is found in a limited number of places in Sussex. Where it does occur, however, typically in slow-flowing rivers, it can occur in abundance. It is a good pollution indicator.

Platycnemis pennipes
1 / 6
Male
Photo: David Sadler
Platycnemis pennipes
2 / 6
Male
Photo: Simon Linington
Platycnemis pennipes
3 / 6
Female
Photo: David Sadler
Platycnemis pennipes
4 / 6
Young female f. lactea
Photo: Simon Linington
Platycnemis pennipes
5 / 6
Pair in tandem
Photo: Simon Linington
Platycnemis pennipes
6 / 6
Ovipositing
Photo: David Sadler

National status
Uncommon south of a line from the Wash, though can be locally abundant.

Status in Sussex
Predominantly found across the High and Low Weald, where it can be locally abundant, and well distributed along sections of the upper Arun and mid-Sussex Adur. Appears to be consolidating its range particularly in the centre and east of the county. There appears to be some contraction in range along the southern Arun and among its few localities to the west of the Arun. It is listed in the Sussex Rare Species Inventory.

Distribution at 1km scale

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

Historical records
Unwin (1853) reported seeing a single specimen on the Lewes Downs in 1849. Chelmick (1979) suggested that its usual haunts were the Arun, Adur and Cuckmere. He also pointed out that this species has otherwise been absent from the Ouse, but the survey for the Dragonflies of Sussex (2004) confirms evidence in the Low Weald section. Dannreuther (1939) mentioned only three or four recorded below Robertsbridge on the river Rother in 1931-1932 by H. Attlee. The wider distribution shown now by the survey for the Dragonflies of Sussex (2004) suggests that either it has been under-recorded, or it may be extending its range. For example, Chelmick (1979) found no trace of the species on the eastern Rother, where it now occurs, although it certainly cannot be described as “plentiful” as he mentioned it was in the 1930s and 1940s.

Flight times
Late May - mid August though there is evidence that the species is extending its flight times at both ends of the period.

Phenology (adult)

Platycnemis pennipes phenology (all)
Platycnemis pennipes phenology pre 1980
Platycnemis pennipes phenology 1980 - 1989
Platycnemis pennipes phenology 1990 - 1999
Platycnemis pennipes phenology 2000 - 2009
Platycnemis pennipes phenology 2010 - 2019
Platycnemis pennipes phenology 2020 on
Platycnemis pennipes habitat
1 / 1
White legged Damselfly habitat at Wakehurst Place reedswamp
Photo: Simon Linington

Habitat
Unpolluted and well-vegetated, slow-moving rivers and streams; occasionally in lakes and ponds. Chelmick (1979) made the point about two distinct habitats: rivers on the (Low) Weald Clay, and lakes with streams on the Ashdown Beds (High Weald). This pattern is evident on our map, though recent records have added further sites, which makes this split a little too simplistic. An interesting feature of this species in Sussex (as has been reported elsewhere; see Cham 2003) is its occurrence on lakes and ponds. Research is needed to determine the apparent significance of this preference.

Conservation
Vulnerable to pollution, this species has its strongholds in Sussex where there is plentiful mature vegetation and clean flowing waters. Insensitive or extensive vegetation clearance is a threat. Chelmick (1979) noted that the White-legged Damselfly can occur in large numbers on fields surrounding lakes and rivers. Any such fields adjacent to our larger water-bodies should therefore be incorporated into conservation management plans.

Similar species
There should be few problems identifying this species though beware that some other damselflies may have pale legs. Apart from the obviously broad, white legs, key features are the two pairs of antehumeral stripes over the thorax and the pale brown pterostigma (wing spots).