Dragonfly Detectives


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BugFest September 16th, 2017

BugFest was especially exciting this year because DRAGONFLIES were the theme this year!!!  You can tell by looking at the design on the back of students t-shirts (which students earned by helping that day : ) Over 30 Dragonfly Detective students volunteered for different shifts to cover the entire day, speaking with an endless stream of visitors from 9am to 5pm.  BugFest attracts about 40,000 visitors, so at times we had quite a crowd!  We are so incredibly proud of the hard work our students exhibited that day.  It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there and speak with strangers.  We heard comments such as, “These kids really know what they are talking about!”. What a great experience for these students!

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Results are pouring in!

With many sites around the state collecting data on dragonflies, we are amassing quite a large set of data!  Students are learning so much about dragonflies, and having fun while doing it.  Here are a few of the scientific posters students have created so far, as well as some of the highlights from field studies.

After all the data comes in from our citizen scientists from mountains to the sea, we will combine all the data sets for analyzing.  We will try to answer the big question all of our citizen scientists have been helping us with for 3 years now: What are the best and worst weather conditions for dragonfly flight? Be sure to come by BugFest at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh on Saturday September 16th to meet some of our Dragonfly Detective citizen scientists in person, look at the posters they created and find out more about the mysteries of dragonflies!


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Dragonflies Abound!

We are off to a great start working with a group of 4-6th graders from a local public school here in Raleigh!  We have been lucky enough to have experienced a wide range of weather conditions, which will make for great data!  We are getting ready to analyze our data and determine what exactly are the best weather conditions for dragonfly flight – sunny, cloudy, windy, humid, raining??? Stay tuned!


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Dragonfly season is quickly approaching!

We are getting ready for another full year of dragonfly studies in 2017.  This year we have a total of 25 sites that plan to conduct the Dragonfly Detectives program!  Here they are:

Map 2017

With sites spread all across the state, it will be fascinating to learn about which species are most abundant in various locations!

Students in the program participate in three different citizen science projects: Dragonfly Detectives, Pond Watch, and Dragonfly Swarm Project.

Dragonfly Detectives

Dragonfly Detectives is a new citizen science project that was created specifically for the Dragonfly Detectives program. It examines the relationship between weather patterns and dragonfly flight activity levels at ponds. Weather plays a huge role in dragonfly behaviors overall, interfering with some and promoting others. It is such a huge influence that nearly all studies of dragonfly behaviors completed in the field include a statement such as “Data was collected on ________ behavior was collected from _____ to _____, except on days when it was (cloudy, rainy, windy, cold, etc).” It is therefore well accepted that weather disrupts the “normal” behavior of dragonflies, though scientists know little about which weather parameters have the largest effect or specifically how weather influences flight behavior. The Dragonfly Detectives students will examine this relationship in detail for the Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) during their time in the field and will analyze the data for their sites. We hope that the data these students collect will result in two publishable papers: one that reports the results of the study and another that reports on how effective a) children in grades 4-8 are at collecting high quality data and b) how effective citizen scientists can be at collecting behavioral data in the field.

Dragonfly Pond Watch

The Migratory Dragonfly Partnership (MDP) was established as a collaborative program to gather information and data about dragonfly migration behaviors with the goal of better understanding and conserving dragonflies and their habitats. Federal agencies, nongovernmental programs, academic institutions, dragonfly experts, and citizen scientists all contribute information and observations. The Migratory Dragonfly Partnership has two major projects, Migration Monitoring and Dragonfly Pond Watch. Students will contribute observations to the Dragonfly Pond Watch program. This project was designed to monitor and observe dragonfly species and activities at local ponds or a specific location on a regular basis. Collecting data in the same location over time enables scientists to investigate the movements of migratory species by increasing knowledge of timing and locations of migratory species, while also providing information about non-migratory species, and the relationship between the two.

YOU can participate in Dragonfly Pond Watch too! migratorydragonflypartnership.org

Dragonfly Swarm Project

Dragonflies are known to swarm but little is understood about this behavior. Scientists know that there are two types of swarms. One is a static feeding swarm, where dragonflies fly in a well-defined area, relatively close to the ground, while feeding on small insects. The second type is a migratory swarm, which consists of hundreds to millions of dragonflies flying in the same direction, fairly high off the ground. Dragonfly swarms are very difficult to study because a person has to be in the right place at the right time to observe them. The Dragonfly Swarm Project is a citizen science project that provides a way for people to report dragonfly swarms occurring near them. The project collects information about when and where dragonfly swarms are occurring, as well as information about weather conditions and recent flooding or storms in the area. This allows researchers to compile data about dragonfly swarms from many different locations in an effort to understand more about the behavior, its role in the environment, how and why the swarms form, etc.

YOU can contribute to Dragonfly Swarm too!  thedragonflywoman.com/dsp/info/

We can’t wait to get started on another exciting year of dragonfly studies!


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Dragonfly Detectives at BugFest & More!

2016 has been an amazing year for learning all about dragonflies!  We turned over 120 kids across the state of NC into dragonfly experts; they are knowledgeable about dragonfly life cycles, migration patterns, behaviors, are able to identify various species and analyze water quality with aquatic macroinvertebrates.

This year we had over 20 students come to BugFest to share their findings from the research portion of the program. To determine which weather factors affect dragonfly flight the most, each group of student scientists recorded weather data and simultaneously conducted timed dragonfly observation periods to determine dragonfly flight activity levels.  At the end of the program, students created a scientific poster to share their findings.  These presentations were displayed at BugFest.    This allowed the students to share their findings and show off what they’ve learned.  Students collectively spoke to over 1,000 visitors throughout the day.  Students who helped received a free BugFest t-shirt!  We are pleased to announce that next year’s BugFest theme insect is dragonflies!!

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We can’t close the year out without showing some of the photos from our last summer group, the Daniels Center for Math & Science Center in Raleigh NC.  It was a sweltering hot session, but these kids worked hard and had fun through it all!!!


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Dragonfly Summer in Full Swing!

With hot sunny days come lots of dragonfly activity. The following photographs come from four separate sessions of Dragonfly Detectives occurring over the past couple of months.

The first group featured is from Merchants Millpond State Park, located near Gatesville, in North Carolina’s coastal plain. Park Ranger Jane worked closely with a local 4-H group to study migrating species of dragonflies in the area. Check out what they did!


The second group is from Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge located on the Albermarle-Pamlico Peninsula in Hyde County, NC. The Refuge features NC’s largest natural lake which covers 40,100 acres. Refuge Biologist Michelle showed her students that dragonflies like to live in swampy areas too!


The final two groups were summer campers participating in a week of “Citizen Science Camp” at Prairie Ridge Ecostation, the field station for the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. This site features a man-made pond teeming with dragonflies!

Students learned a lot about dragonflies in their natural habitats and had tons of fun along the way!


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Featured Dragonfly: The Common Green Darner

The Common Green Darner (scientific name Anax junius) is the largest and most brightly colored of the five species of dragonfly we are looking for as part of the Dragonfly Detectives project. The body of this dragonfly is approximately three inches long. The thorax, or middle section of the dragonfly, is bright green. The abdomen, or tail-end of the dragonfly, can differ in color depending on the sex. Males have a brilliant blue abdomen while the females have a greenish or purplish brown abdomen. Both sexes have a black stripe down the entire length of the abdomen. The wings of this darner are uncolored or slightly orange-tinted in immature dragonflies.

ANAXJU~3-2This dragonfly can be found in almost any stillwater habitat in the entire United States, but is most commonly found feeding on small insects over fields or patrolling (flying over water to defend territory) lakes, ponds, and ditches. Its range stretches north into Canada and south to Central America. If you are lucky you might see a “swarm” of dragonflies: dozens, even hundreds of dragonflies all in one place at one time! Swarming appears to be due to favorable feeding conditions or group migration. Once familiar with this species, you might start noticing these beautiful dragonflies when you travel outside of North Carolina too!

North Carolina has both resident and migrating populations of the Common Green Darner. The migrating dragonflies arrive in early spring from the south. This early set of dragonflies mate, lay eggs, and die during the summer. The succeeding generation of these darners can go from egg to adult while still in summer season. Soon the migrating dragonflies are ready to take flight and head south once again. They migrate much like a bird, taking advantage of tail winds, using some days to travel and other days to rest. Their average daily flight during migration is 7.5 miles, but darners have been documented to fly up to 100 miles in a day! The total length of this dragonfly’s migration is still being studied by scientists and by citizens like you! Resident dragonflies do not migrate, but can be found in this area throughout most of the late spring and into the early fall.