Odonate of the week: Pyrrhosoma nymphula

This week’s odonate of the week is Pyrrhosoma nymphula, the large red damselfly (we call a spade a spade in the UK…).  The male is the first photo (note the small, black genital claspers at the tip of the abdomen) and the female is the second photo (note the rounded tip to the abdomen with the short ovipositor projecting from the tip).

Male Pyrrhosoma nymphula
Female Pyrrhosoma nymphula

This is another species that I have worked on as a model system.  There has been some work to suggest that odonates cannot see red which means that, unlike many other examples of odonate colouration, this is probably not meant to communicate anything to other odonates. Instead, researchers have proposed that the colouration may have something to do with thermoregulation.  Certainly P. nymphula is among the most northerly distributed damselflies in Europe, reaching into the northern half of Norway and Finland and stretching across northern Russia.  P. nymphula also comes in a variety of different colour morphs which have differing amounts of dark pigment.  There is some evidence that the morphs with darker pigmentation occur in cooler, more northerly areas where energy is limited and so that pigment may enhance the absorption of heat from the sun.


9 thoughts on “Odonate of the week: Pyrrhosoma nymphula

  1. Chris,
    I thought you were working out of Canada. Where was this found? I don’t see it listed at all in Westfall & May. Are you in the UK for the summer?

  2. I most certainly am working out of Canada. There are plenty of Canadian photos coming (including ebony jewelwings!), so don’t worry! I just have a backlog of British odonates which I’m intending to share with the world! Plus, I worked on these critters for a few years during my PhD so I know little factoids about them. That gets harder with the North American fauna which I’m still getting to grips with.

  3. Hi Katatrepsis,
    Thanks for the article. I came across it as I am beginning my MSc thesis and I’m interested in colour polymorphism and Rensch rule in the zygoptera. I am very interested in using P. nymphula as a study species to attempt to address the maintenance of colour polymorphism (density-dependence, male mimetism). However upon reading your post I tried to find the paper that addresses odonate vision and their struggle with red. You could you perhaps cite these articles for me? Great post but lacking citations!
    Any advice on the matter would be greatly appreciated

    • Hi there – you’re absolutely right that I should have cited the papers. To be honest, I only just looked into this properly. Here are a few, though:

      Huang S-C, Chiou T-H, Marshall J, Reinhard J (2014) Spectral Sensitivities and Color Signals in a Polymorphic Damselfly. PLoS ONE 9(1): e87972. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0087972

      Bybee, S.M., Johnson, K.K. Gering, E.J., Whiting, M.F. & Crandall, K.A. (2012) All the better to see you with: a review of odonate color vision with transcriptomic insight into the odonate eye, Organisms Diversity & Evolution, 12: 241-250.

      It was a bit simplistic to say that they cannot see red, but the visual system is focused in shorter wavelengths. There is some discussion as to why that might be in the Bybee et al paper.

  4. Hi!
    This was posted a long time ago, but if you happen to still have sources about the colour morphology of P. nymphula and the preliminary research on its distribution due to melanin levels I would love to read them! I am currently writing my dissertation on melanin levels and distribution of P. nymphula and I. elegans in the Cairngorms.
    Thanks very much,

    • Hi Rhi,

      I think the comment was probably based on an observation in a paper rather than an empirical study, and I cannot find the reference right now. It would have been old, though – certainly pre-2010. Have you looked in Corbet’s book? There are some papers cited on pigmentation and temperature in odonates in my 2008 review which you could check, as well: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/13887890.2008.9748319 (page 135).


  5. Hi Chris,

    That looks ideal thank you! I have another paper on melanism in Odonata but they focus on the dragonflies rather than the damselflies. Part of the reason behind the project is the potential for range shifts or frequency changes of colour morphs in light of climate change so this paper is great. I will make sure to look up Corbet also.

    Thanks again,

  6. In fact I am realising now I am already citing one of your other papers, your research is very interesting. Hopefully my work will also reveal some nice results.


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