Here be dragonflies: species to be mapped

THEY are big, fast, flesh-eating predators and sound as if they should be avoided.

But visitors are being asked to seek out any dragonflies they encounter while island hopping in Scotland this week.

The British Dragonfly Society (BDS) is compiling its first survey of dragonflies on Rhum and the Small Isles and wants to hear of any encounters with the giant insects.

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Visitors' information will be used in a national dragonfly atlas to be published in 2013.

Scottish Natural Heritage, which owns the Rhum national nature reserve, is also producing a new publication to record sighting during National Dragonfly Week which runs from 19-27 June.

Dragonflies are sensitive to long-term temperature change, which makes them useful for studies into how climate change is affecting the natural world.

The northern or southern limits of their distribution can shift dramatically depending on the long-term climatic conditions. In the past 30 years several species have moved further north. The latest species to move in from England is the Emperor, the UK's largest dragonfly, which is thought to breed in Dumfries and Galloway.

The information collected will also be used to monitor endangered species and determine if specific habitat management is required for them.

The Small Isles offer perfect habitat conditions for a wide variety of spectacular dragonflies.

Jonathan Willet of the BDS said: "Dragonflies are our most exciting, colourful and charismatic insect species and the Small Isles are a superb place to see them and many other insects.

"Yet much of Scotland is still relatively uncharted in terms of knowing the overall distribution of our species."

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He said the Northern Emerald Dragonfly has only been recorded twice, 70 years ago, although an immature male of this species was found on Muck last year.