Strolling around a lake in summer, you might get sightings of dragonflies as they zoom in and out of reeds and rushes. The easiest way to distinguish between dragonflies and damselflies is to look at their wings (dragons hold their wings perpendicular to their bodies like their mythological namesake, while damsels have theirs held neatly along their tails, looking more like ladies’ skirts).

There are around 30 species of dragonfly that may be seen in Great Britain and Ireland, and one that many of us will have seen flying around ponds in Cumbria is the common darter, which is both a summer and autumn species and can be seen well into November. The tail is very thin – vivid red in mature males and brown in females, though older females will begin to develop faint red colouration as they age. The common darter will sometimes perch with its tail held high in the air. They can be seen at Bowness-on-Solway Nature Reserve on the Solway.

A particularly impressive species to look out for is the emperor dragonfly. The largest of our British species, this beauty has a vivid green thorax and a brightly coloured tail (blue for males, green for females). You’ll need keen eyes for this species though – they are highly active and rarely settle except in cool weather. The emperor dragonfly can usually be seen from July to August.

On the wing from May to September, the four-spotted chaser can be recognised by the two dark spots on the edge of each wing – giving the species its name. Found on heathlands and near ponds and lakes, these are active dragonflies, spending a lot of time hunting or ‘hawking’ over water for insect-prey or to mark out their territories. They mate on the wing; the female then hovers over the water, dipping the tip of her abdomen in to drop her eggs on to vegetation below the surface. A good place to see them (and the emperor dragonfly) is at the small tarns at Barkbooth Lot Nature Reserve near Windermere.

To find out more about our British dragonflies, join Cumbria Wildlife Trust at Scaleby Moss in Carlisle next Wednesday 22 May, where you can help monitor a very rare species: the white-faced darter. Monitoring has taken place for several years and is making valuable contribution to a reintroduction project. Click here for more details and to book onto the event.