Sussex Dragonfly Group

Large Red Damselfly
Pyrrhosoma nymphula (Sulzer, 1776)
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Suborder: Zygoptera
Family: Coenagrionidae

Large Red Damselfly
Pyrrhosoma nymphula

Suborder: Zygoptera
Family: Coenagrionidae

The first damselfly of the year to emerge, it can appear as early as April in warm conditions. It is very common throughout Sussex, living in a wide variety of habitats, and is an early coloniser of new ponds. Males are predominantly red with black legs and black bands on the base of the abdomen. The female occurs in three forms with varying degrees of black on the abdomen.

Pyrrhosoma nymphula
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Male
Photo: Simon Linington
Pyrrhosoma nymphula
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Male
Photo: Simon Linington
Pyrrhosoma nymphula
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Female
Photo: David Sadler
Pyrrhosoma nymphula
4 / 6
Female
Photo: Simon Linington
Pyrrhosoma nymphula
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Pair in mating wheel
Photo: Simon Linington
Pyrrhosoma nymphula
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Pair in mating wheel
Photo: Simon Linington

More images

National status
Widespread and common in Britain.

Status in Sussex
Common. Very well distributed over the county, found almost anywhere there are suitable water bodies. Chelmick (1979) noted it being most abundant on “sluggish acid streams and seepages” which is affirmed by the cluster of records on Ashdown Forest and in other High Weald sites, but it also is well represented in the clay country of the Low Weald. Fewer records to the east of Sussex may possibly represent less observer coverage.

Distribution at 1km scale

Pyrrhosoma nymphula distribution (all)
Pyrrhosoma nymphula distribution pre 1980
Pyrrhosoma nymphula distribution 1980 - 1989
Pyrrhosoma nymphula distribution 1990 - 1999
Pyrrhosoma nymphula distribution 2000 - 2009
Pyrrhosoma nymphula distribution 2010 - 2019
Pyrrhosoma nymphula distribution 2010 on

Historical records
All old accounts regarded this species as widespread throughout the county, although Chelmick’s survey (1979) considered it virtually absent from the coastal plain. However, the coastal area has now been colonised.

Flight times
Usually the first species to be on the wing. April - August occasionally September. There is evidence that flight times are becoming earlier.

Phenology (adult)

Pyrrhosoma nymphula phenology (all)
Pyrrhosoma nymphula phenology pre 1980
Pyrrhosoma nymphula phenology 1980 - 1989
Pyrrhosoma nymphula phenology 1990 - 1999
Pyrrhosoma nymphula phenology 2000 - 2009
Pyrrhosoma nymphula phenology 2010 - 2019
Pyrrhosoma nymphula phenology 2010 on
Pyrrhosoma nymphula habitat
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Large Red Damselfly habitat at Coldwaltham
Photo: Fran Southgate

Habitat
A wide range, from ponds, lakes and canals to the quieter stretches of fast-flowing streams and rivers.

Conservation
Cursory observation shows this to be a very common species across the county, but more detailed study reveals an absence in areas of intensive agriculture. For example, although it occurs in most grid squares for the Pevensey Levels, its greatest concentrations and the most evidence of breeding are in the more traditional grazing meadows, with a marked decline or absence in the pump-drained, arable areas.

Similar species
The only other predominantly red damselfly is the Small Red Damselfly. The two red damselflies are very easy to tell apart, not least because they inhabit different habitat niches. The Large Red Damselfly is common and well distributed across Sussex, whereas the Small Red Damsel is a national rarity confined to acid heathland bogs and is indeed one of our smallest damselflies. The male Large Red Damselfly is mainly red, with black legs and black bands on the base of the abdomen. The female also occurs in a few forms, with varying degrees of black on the abdomen. The male Small Red Damselfly is, except for the blackish thorax, almost entirely red, including its legs. The female takes several forms, one of which resembles the male and another which has a noticeably bronze/black thorax and abdomen with red at the top and the bottom. The Small Red Damselfly also has red pterostigmas (wing spots) whereas those of the Large Red are black.

Red damselflies seen away from heathland e.g. on the coast are almost certainly Large Red.

The first damselfly of the year to emerge, it can appear as early as April in warm conditions. It is very common throughout Sussex, living in a wide variety of habitats, and is an early coloniser of new ponds. Males are predominantly red with black legs and black bands on the base of the abdomen. The female occurs in three forms with varying degrees of black on the abdomen.

Pyrrhosoma nymphula
1 / 6
Male
Photo: Simon Linington
Pyrrhosoma nymphula
2 / 6
Male
Photo: Simon Linington
Pyrrhosoma nymphula
3 / 6
Female
Photo: David Sadler
Pyrrhosoma nymphula
4 / 6
Female
Photo: Simon Linington
Pyrrhosoma nymphula
5 / 6
Pair in mating wheel
Photo: Simon Linington
Pyrrhosoma nymphula
6 / 6
Pair in mating wheel
Photo: Simon Linington

National status
Widespread and common in Britain.

Status in Sussex
Common. Very well distributed over the county, found almost anywhere there are suitable water bodies. Chelmick (1979) noted it being most abundant on “sluggish acid streams and seepages” which is affirmed by the cluster of records on Ashdown Forest and in other High Weald sites, but it also is well represented in the clay country of the Low Weald. Fewer records to the east of Sussex may possibly represent less observer coverage.

Distribution at 1km scale

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

Historical records
All old accounts regarded this species as widespread throughout the county, although Chelmick’s survey (1979) considered it virtually absent from the coastal plain. However, the coastal area has now been colonised.

Flight times
Usually the first species to be on the wing. April - August occasionally September. There is evidence that flight times are becoming earlier.

Phenology (adult)

Pyrrhosoma nymphula phenology (all)
Pyrrhosoma nymphula phenology pre 1980
Pyrrhosoma nymphula phenology 1980 - 1989
Pyrrhosoma nymphula phenology 1990 - 1999
Pyrrhosoma nymphula phenology 2000 - 2009
Pyrrhosoma nymphula phenology 2010 - 2019
Pyrrhosoma nymphula phenology 2020 on
Pyrrhosoma nymphula habitat
1 / 1
Large Red Damselfly habitat at Coldwaltham
Photo: Fran Southgate

Habitat
A wide range, from ponds, lakes and canals to the quieter stretches of fast-flowing streams and rivers.

Conservation
Cursory observation shows this to be a very common species across the county, but more detailed study reveals an absence in areas of intensive agriculture. For example, although it occurs in most grid squares for the Pevensey Levels, its greatest concentrations and the most evidence of breeding are in the more traditional grazing meadows, with a marked decline or absence in the pump-drained, arable areas.

Similar species
The only other predominantly red damselfly is the Small Red Damselfly. The two red damselflies are very easy to tell apart, not least because they inhabit different habitat niches. The Large Red Damselfly is common and well distributed across Sussex, whereas the Small Red Damsel is a national rarity confined to acid heathland bogs and is indeed one of our smallest damselflies. The male Large Red Damselfly is mainly red, with black legs and black bands on the base of the abdomen. The female also occurs in a few forms, with varying degrees of black on the abdomen. The male Small Red Damselfly is, except for the blackish thorax, almost entirely red, including its legs. The female takes several forms, one of which resembles the male and another which has a noticeably bronze/black thorax and abdomen with red at the top and the bottom. The Small Red Damselfly also has red pterostigmas (wing spots) whereas those of the Large Red are black.

Red damselflies seen away from heathland e.g. on the coast are almost certainly Large Red.