Here be dragonflies

World-travelers may spot the spectacular yellow-winged Darter, found in Europe and northern China. Photo: André Karwath (via Wikipedia)
World-travelers may spot the spectacular yellow-winged darter, found in Europe and northern China. Photo: André Karwath (via Wikipedia)

While dragonflies and damselflies might belong to the same scientific class as the common housefly, the gossamer-winged zoomers seem a world apart from their less-enchanting six-legged cousins. Sitting outdoors in the San Juan Islands last weekend, I had a chance to observe a few blue dragonflies up close as they swooped in to check out our picnic.

Scientists all across the country are keeping an eye on these dazzling creatures as well, and they need your help to figure out where dragonflies range. In particular, the dragonfly hunters at Odonata Central are compiling a database of dragonflies and damselflies across the world. An interactive map lets you see what varieties of dragonflies have been reported in your neck of the woods. (Note: I found that this map worked well with my Safari browser, but not with Firefox.) Anyone with a digital camera and internet connection can register and then send in sightings of dragonflies to add to the database. Need help identifying what species you saw? The Odonata Central page has many photographs, as does the United States Geological Survey.

Many individual states have local monitoring groups as well. For example, those of you in the Chicago area can sign up to participate in the Dragonfly Monitoring Network. These scientists ask a commitment of attending one workshop in the spring, and then ask participants to send in reports of dragonfly sightings along specific routes. Other local dragonfly monitoring groups are found in New Hampshire and Ohio and many other states.

Coming up soon, dragonfly fanatics in New Mexico can join the Friends of Bitter Lake at their annual Dragonfly Festival from September 10 to 12 in Roswell, New Mexico. If you’re not in the area, head on out with your camera and try to capture some local dragonflies on film!

Categories: Citizen Science, Insects, Nature & Outdoors