Dragon hunting: The Ohio Dragonfly Survey needs your help


Even though people often see dragonflies and damselflies during Ohio’s warmer months, these fast flyers are usually overlooked. Ferocious predators as both aquatic larva and as winged adults, the insects are also food for birds and other animals as part of a healthy, functioning ecosystem.

Historically, 167 species of dragonflies and damselflies have been reported in Ohio, but several of these have not been seen in decades. Ohio lists 22 species as state-endangered or threatened, including the federally-endangered Hine’s emerald dragonfly.

The Ohio Dragonfly Survey was established as a way for citizen scientists to help researchers to identify, locate, and determine changes in distribution and abundance of dragonfly and damselfly species. It is a three-year study that is funded through the Ohio Biodiversity Conservation Partnership, a collaboration between The Ohio State University and the ODNR Division of Wildlife. By documenting dragonflies and damselflies, state researchers, biologists, and wildlife managers will have a better understanding of current distributions of these species.

The survey is scheduled to run through 2019. All contributions from citizen scientists are greatly appreciated. You can contribute in two ways: photo submissions via iNaturalist.org, or a physical collection of specimens that can be archived and used for DNA analysis. Submissions help researchers document the current distribution of these insects and understand which species are rare, potentially threatened, or new to the region.

Being a dragonfly or damselfly expert is not necessary to help with the survey, but you can brush up on your identification skills by attending a dragonfly workshop this summer. You can find upcoming events near you by visiting the Ohio Dragonfly Survey webpage at u.osu.edu/ohioodonatasurvey.

Every county in Ohio is important, and we want records from everywhere! For example, a sharp observer in Lucas County found a new state and county record in his first year, and has subsequently documented more than 15 sightings. Several counties only have a few dragonfly species reported, and thus could use some extra attention. Many counties were surveyed by dragonfly enthusiasts decades ago, but species ranges are shifting and many have not been seen in several years.

You can make a similar difference to improve our knowledge of your region in just a few trips to your local wetlands or creek. Many species are habitat-specific, with larvae developing only in certain waterways. Visit a variety of habitats including ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, seeps, and fens to find the most species near you. Fun facts about dragonflies and damselflies:

– The difference between dragonflies and damselflies is in the wings. A damselfly has a slender body with wings held over its back at rest. A dragonfly has a comparatively stout body with wings held outstretched at rest.

– Special compound eyes have up to 30,000 facets. The insects have a 360-degree field of view thanks to those large eyes.

– Dragonflies and damselflies belong to the Odonata order within the much larger class of insects. They come in a rainbow of colors. In fact, Ohio has a species known as the rainbow bluet for just this reason!

– All immature dragonflies and damselflies live underwater and are called nymphs. They have the handy capability of using water propulsion to escape predators. They are excellent indicators of water quality, and serve as barometers of the health of our streams, lakes, and wetlands.

– Both adults and immatures are predatory species and are proficient at catching mosquitoes and other insects. They also serve as an important food source for mammals, birds, and amphibians.

– Most species of dragonflies and damselflies forage during the day, but a few species only come out to hunt at dusk or at night.

Make sure to be on the lookout this summer for a dragonfly or damselfly. If you can, take a picture of it and submit the sighting to the Ohio Dragonfly Survey. You never know where the next great discovery awaits for these amazing insects.

A three-year study of Ohio dragonflies and damselflies is underway. Wildlife enthusiasts across Ohio can submit sightings and contribute to the project. Go to u.osu.edu/ohioodonatasurvey to learn more. Need help with identification? Call 1-800-WILDLIFE (1-800-945-3543) to request a copy of the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Ohio field guide.

This project was funded in part by the State Wildlife Grant program administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. State Wildlife Grant funds are directed to the species of greatest conservation need.

By MaLisa Spring

State Coordinator, Ohio Dragonfly Survey

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