If a prize were being offered for the most beautiful insect ever spotted in the centre of Leeds, I think I’d stand a good chance of winning it.
My ‘prize-winning’ observation took place on a warm day in July, when bright sunshine and high humidity were tempting insects usually restricted to the banks of the river Aire to venture far from the water – into unfamiliar urban settings.
I first became aware of the unusual winged visitor as I made my way towards the rail station through a throng of office workers and bargain hunters. As it zipped across in front of me I initially thought the insect was a piece of litter caught in the breeze – perhaps a sweet wrapper cast carelessly aside by a city centre shopper.
The ‘sweet wrapper’ then fluttered towards the middle of the road and it suddenly became animate, as my eyes and brain made sense of the form and pattern of what was now clearly a living creature. I realised that I was, rather incongruously, watching a male banded demoiselle – one of Britain’s most stunning damselflies – flit its way delicately along Neville Street in the direction of the Dark Arches and city square!
The banded demoiselle is a dramatically-patterned insect that measures just four and half centimetres from head to tail. It is one of just two species of British damselfly that have coloured wings, the other being the aptly-named beautiful damselfly, which is much scarcer in Yorkshire.
The male banded demoiselle is highly distinctive, with an iridescent blue-green body and those characteristic blue-back patches in its wings. Although the female lacks the strongly-banded wings, it too has a metallic body – mainly green with a bronzy tip.
Banded demoiselles fly with delicate flicks of the wings, creating a pleasing bobbing effect as they make gentle progress around their territories. During their main flight period from May till August, males are often seen performing a fluttering, butterfly-like display flight to capture the attention of females.
Despite its exotic appearance, the banded demoiselle is still reasonably common throughout England, especially south of the river Humber. In more rural parts of Yorkshire it is frequently encountered along well-vegetated river and stream margins, especially at lower elevations where the water flows more slowly and the channel has a more muddy base.
There is no doubt that the banded demoiselle is one of those insects that packs an awful lot of interest into a tiny frame.
Brin Best, Wharfedale Naturalists’ Society