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A surfeit of emperors! Rare winged visitor in Douglas 20 December 2011

Female Vagrant Emperor Dragonfly
Female Vagrant Emperor Dragonfly
No, it’s not a bird, but a dragonfly. This traveller is a Vagrant Emperor dragonfly (pictured), noticed in a garden in Governor’s Hill on 9th November. Our native dragonflies have mostly disappeared by the end of October, so this one aroused the curiosity of the finder, who took some photographs.

The pictures were sent to Manx National Heritage, where the dragonfly was identified as a female Vagrant Emperor (Anax ephippiger), the first known record of this species in the Isle of Man. It truly is a long-distance flyer, and might have come from as far away as sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. The persistent southerly winds experienced by the Island in the autumn may have had something to do with its arrival on our shores.

Kate Hawkins, Curator of Natural History at Manx National Heritage said;

"This is a fascinating occurrence of a dragonfly which has been seen with increasing frequency in the UK and is has clearly been extending its range. Even with a following wind, it is amazing to think of this small creature making it so far north. Congratulations to Mr Motley for having the presence of mind to photograph it!”

Until now, the only late autumn dragonfly we might have expected was the Migrant Hawker, an immigrant from the UK or further afield from the continent. Though similar in size to the Vagrant Emperor, it is quite different in colour and patterning on the abdomen.

Emperor Dragonfly by Pete Hadfield
Male Emperor Dragonfly at Ayres by Pete Hadfield
It has been a good year for unusual dragonflies. In August, wildlife photographers Pete Hadfield & Wendy Gawne took pictures of Emperor Dragonflies (Anax imperator) at the Ayres gravel pits. This native British species is only known from one, possibly two other sites in the Isle of Man and, amazingly, was laying eggs at The Ayres. At the same site, Pete and Wendy observed yet another migrant, the Lesser Emperor Dragonfly (Anax parthenope), another first Manx record. The males of the Lesser and Vagrant Emperors are similar in appearance, having a blue or violet segment at the front of the abdomen, but the Vagrant Emperor has brown eyes while the Lesser Emperor’s eyes are green.

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