Black River Action Team Dragonfly Detectives

Black River Action Team Dragonfly Detectives

posted Monday, March 30, 2020

As spring arrives, it brings the promise of warmer temperatures, longer days, and dragonflies! While everyone recognizes the winged adults, many are not aware that these large insects spend months to years under water as aquatic nymphs. When ready to metamorphose, a nymph emerges from the water onto a dry surface, be it a bridge abutment, shoreline vegetation, or a tree trunk several feet away. Once firm footing is established, the nymph begins to stretch and swell, splitting its larval exoskeleton and slowly pulling its adult body out of the shell. The whole process, called eclosure, can take half an hour to complete; the dragonfly pumps fluid into its compacted wings and abdomen until they are unfurled and firm enough to fly off and finish hardening. The light-as-air exoskeleton (known as an exivua -- "egg-ZOO-vee-yuh") is left behind for a few days or weeks, until it is blown away by wind or washed away by rain.

It is these exuviae that volunteers with the Black River Action Team will be searching for and collecting between the end of April and the end of November. A kid- and family-friendly program called "Dragonfly Detectives" features several ways that individuals, families, and eventually school groups, summer camp teams, and more can get involved in citizen science. Starting in our own backyards and in limited fashion along shorelines, volunteers can venture out solo or in well-spaced couples or small family units, keeping in mind the current health guidelines for social distancing.

Why? Dragonflies are often observed flying or resting, but not necessarily close to where they hatched from eggs and lived underwater for a long span of time. To better understand the habitat requirements of dragonflies and to confirm the presence of successfully breeding populations of certain dragonflies, BRAT will be curating the collection for official record-keeping purposes. Our work will help update the Vermont Atlas of Life as well as the Vermont Center for Ecostudies and Odonata Central, a global resource of dragonfly & damselfly research.

BRAT is partnering with the Vermont Institute for Natural Sciences (VINS) in Quechee, Vermont to collect photographic observations of adult dragonflies spotted on their campus, with special attention being paid to dragons observed on and from the Forest Canopy Walk structure - up to 100' from the forest floor!

One of the great benefits of the Dragonfly Detectives program is its inherent flexibility. Participants can join for one afternoon, or "adopt" a pond, stream, wetland, or section of river that they will visit 2-3 times each month from April through November, seeking exuviae. Pickup or drop-off of sample containers will be decided on a case-by-case basis, so please contact BRAT Director Kelly Stettner to ask questions or to sign up. Learn more at the project page on Facebook by searching "Dragonfly Detectives" at Kelly can also be reached by leaving a message at (802) 738-0456.

Photo by Kelly Stettner, dragonfly exuvia at Knapp Pond 1.

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