Don’t Exterminate Dragonflies!

Dythemis nigrescens female

Black setwing, Dythemis nigrescens, female

A few days ago, I was reading my news on Twitter and noticed a tweet by Alex Wild of Myrmecos.net.  He provided a link to a page on a Terminix website.  Normally I don’t bother looking at pest control company websites because they just make me mad, but the tweet mentioned extermination services for dragonflies.  Sure enough, the page discussed services Terminix can provide to rid your yard of any pesky dragonflies that might be bothering you.

Normally I try to keep my blog as cheery and positive as possible, but as an entomologist and someone who really, really loves dragonflies, I am outraged that Terminix provides this service!  I openly admit that am opposed to pest control companies in general due to some run ins with some terribly misinformed pest control people.  I have a strong bias against these companies, so feel free to take what I say here with a grain of salt if you disagree with me – or just stop reading here.  I do begrudgingly see the utility of calling in a control company when your house is being overrun with ants or termites or some other insect that causes damage, so I’m not entirely anti-pest control company.  But dragonflies?  Seriously?  If I ever needed another reason to convince me I should never hire Terminix, this is it!

I hope no one ever uses the Terminix dragonfly extermination service.  There are so many reasons why it’s great to have dragonflies around!  Thus, I’m devoting today’s post to several reasons why you shouldn’t exterminate the dragonflies in your yards.  Give me a second to climb up on my soapbox…  :)

Rhionaeshna multicolor male

Blue-eyed darner, Rhionaeshna multicolor, male

Reason Not to Exterminate #1: Dragonflies are beautiful!

This is the most touchy feely of my reasons, but let’s face it: as far as insects go, most people think that dragonflies fall way over toward the beautiful side of the ugly-beautiful continuum of insects!  Countless people love dragonflies solely for their looks.  If that’s the only reason you hesitate to exterminate the dragonflies in your yard, it’s good enough!  People often attract butterflies to their yards, so why not let some equally stunning insects fly around with them?

Pachydiplax longipennis female

Blue dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis, female

Reason Not to Exterminate #2: Dragonflies are harmless to people

I’m frequently asked if dragonflies bite.  Yes, it IS possible to be bitten by a dragonfly.  I’ve been bitten myself.  However, getting bitten by a dragonfly is next to impossible!  You have to catch the dragonfly first, and anyone who’s ever tried to catch a dragonfly knows how very difficult this can be.  Then you have to grab the head of the dragonfly.  If you’re not paying sufficient attention to what you’re doing that you grab the head instead of the wings, well… I think you just might deserve to be bitten.  I certainly deserved to be bitten the one time I found myself in that situation!  Rest assured: Flying dragonflies will not bite.  They do not attack people.  They do not sting.  If you sit in the middle of a swarm of thousands of dragonflies, there’s probably something like a one in a trillion chance you’ll be bitten.  Dragonflies also cause no damage to your home or your garden or your lawn.  They thus present ABSOLUTELY NO risk to you if they’re just flying around in your yard!  Why pay to remove something that is completely harmless?

Pantala flavescens male

Wandering glider, Pantala flavescens, male

Reason Not to Exterminate #3: Dragonflies are very beneficial insects!

Dragonflies are superb predators of small, flying insects.  Those small, flying insects are often A) very annoying and B) carry diseases.  Most people don’t like having mosquitoes and gnats in their yards.  Dragonflies will help eliminate many of these little pests!  They’re nature’s flying pest exterminators (they’re sometimes called mosquito hawks for their mosquito chomping prowess!) so they’re great insects to have in your yard.  Why would you want to eliminate insects that prevent you from being bitten or annoyed so badly by flies that you no longer want to go into your yard?

Erythemis collocata male

Western pondhawk, Erythemis collocata, male

Reason Not to Exterminate #4: You might kill an endangered species

This is the most flimsy reason as there aren’t very many dragonflies on the endangered species list yet, but there are some and in various places around the world so I’m going with it.  I put this question to you: do you honestly trust a pest control employee to know the difference between, say, an endangered Hine’s emerald and any other large, mostly black American dragonfly?  I certainly wouldn’t!  The last time I talked to a pest control “expert” outside of my entomology department, the guy all but told me I was stupid because I disagreed with him when he said that all termites are completely white and wingless like the one in his photo.  He even argued with me when I insisted he was wrong, gave him the name of a species that was not entirely white, and reminded him of the winged stage of termites.  If a pest control expert doesn’t even understand the life cycle of one of the extermination industry’s biggest money-making pest species, I wouldn’t dare let one kill dragonflies if I lived in an area that had an endangered species flying around.

Perithemis intensa male

Mexican amberwing, Perithemis intensa, male

Reason Not to Exterminate #5: Do you really want pesticides all over your yard?

Most pesticides really aren’t that good for you.  While the makers will insist up and down that they don’t threaten human life (and some of them really don’t!), we don’t fully understand the effects of chronic, long-term exposure to many pesticides or how exposure may impact our future health.  If you call in a pest control company, you can be sure they’ll bring along a big vat of pesticide to spray your yard with.  Why take the risk?  The dragonflies aren’t doing anything to harm you or your property, so you might as well keep your money and minimize your exposure to potentially toxic chemicals.

Erythemis collocata female

Western pondhawk, Erythemis collocata, female

Reason Not to Exterminate #6: Dragonflies aren’t the problem anyway…

If you have a lot of dragonflies in your yard, they are likely there for one of two reasons: 1) you have water in your yard, either a pond or a stream, or 2) you have enough gnats, mosquitoes, or other small flying insects to meet the nutritional needs of the dragonflies in your yard.  If you have water in your yard, there’s not much you can do to get rid of your dragonflies.  You might as well move if you don’t like them because they’ll keep coming back.  If you don’t have water in your yard, something else is drawing them there – and that something else is likely going to be a bunch of little insects you don’t like having around.  Imagine a scenario: You have a lot of dragonflies in your yard.  You call Terminix and have them removed.  A few days later, your yard is overrun with mosquitoes.  Then you call the Terminix people again to have them take care of the new problem.  Maybe I’m overly cynical, but I can’t help but think this is the motivation behind the dragonfly extermination service.  Why have your customers pay you only once when you can eliminate a beneficial insect from their yards and make a second visit (cha ching!) to take care of the problem that removing the dragonflies created?  Besides, if you only kill the dragonflies and fail to eliminate the insects that are attracting the dragonflies to your yard in the first place, you’re going to get more dragonflies coming in eventually.  If you must kill something, kill the insects the dragonflies are feeding on, not the dragonflies themselves!

Symetrum corruptum female

Variegated skimmer, Symetrum corruptum, female

I’m at a loss to understand why any pest control company would want to offer a dragonfly extermination service.  Dragonflies are not pests.  If you read my blog, you know that large swarms do sometimes form over yards on occasion, but dragonflies rarely congregate in an area without a pond or stream for more than a week.  If you wait a few days, they’ll probably move along on their own!  And even if they don’t, they can’t do anything to you or your property.  There’s just no reason to spend your hard earned money to have a pest control company kill the dragonflies in your yard – and several reasons why you should save the dragonflies instead.  I can’t help but think that this service preys on people who know little about dragonflies and sensationalizes a “problem” that isn’t a problem at all.  And why would any pest control company want to kill a beneficial insect?  I think it all comes down to making money.  What a great little scam it is to convince people to pay you kill your competition that provides its pest extermination services for free…

And now I’ll climb down from my soapbox.  I apologize if I have offended anyone and I’ll return to my regularly scheduled, less cynical, cheery posts next time!

_______________

Great news! Since I wrote this post a few days ago, the odonate community took action!  Several odonate researchers/enthusiasts teamed up, started calling people and writing e mails, and convinced the company to take down the ad for the dragonfly extermination service.  Apparently the service was offered by a Terminix subcontractor and NOT Terminix itself (though they were obviously not keeping tabs on the people they affiliate with…).  Terminix claims that they have never offered dragonfly extermination and do not intend to.  Hooray!

I’m going to leave this post up in case any other companies decide to offer this shortsighted service in the future and to address the concerns of the many people who write to me asking how to get rid of the dragonflies in their yards.  However, for now it looks like our dragonflies are safe.  Go odonates!

_______________

Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2011 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com

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30 thoughts on “Don’t Exterminate Dragonflies!

  1. Good for you for getting on that soapbox, and I’m so happy to hear they stopped offering the service.

    I absolutely agree and I was outraged right along with you. I didn’t even know anyone did this!

    I love dragonflies more than butterflies. As to the bite, my answer to anyone who asks is always that anything with grasping mouthparts CAN bite, but no, they won’t. I would be absolutely thrilled to be in the middle of a swarm of thousands of dragonflies. And yeah, they’re totally beneficial. They are the pest control service.

    • I hope you have a chance to sit in a swarm someday! It’s a magical experience, and one that many, many people have told me they will remember forever.

  2. Great post! And I am impressed that action was taken so quickly! Is Terminex REALLY eliminating their dragonfly extermination policy that easily? Guess I’m a bit cynical on that account, but I certainly hope it is true. Well done!

    • It looks like the service was being offered by a Terminix subcontractor and not Terminix itself, so I imagine it will actually not be offered. From the messages that have been flying around the odonate listservs it doesn’t sound like Terminix was even aware that the subcontractor was offering the service and wasn’t terribly thrilled to find out that it was.

  3. You’re certainly right on with #4.

    When I came to Arizona years ago as a new graduate student in entomology the soil at the house I lived in was being treated for termites. A great chance for me to learn something about Arizona insects from an expert I thought—a chance for me to ask questions. It quickly became obvious that I knew more than he did. We ended up with me answering his questions. I was amazed the “expert” knew so little.

    I’ve since learned that many pest control operators may know how to operate their equipment, but they often have very little reliable information beyond the “official industry facts” about the chemicals they use, and they may know little about the biology of the pests beyond a few basic facts. And they sometimes get those wrong. I’m sure there are exceptions, but in my experience far too many pest control operators seem to fall into this category.

    • I wholeheartedly agree with you! Most of the pest control people I’ve encountered have been just like you describe – people who’ve been trained to do the job, but know nothing about the insects themselves. I got so mad at the guy who was trying to convince me that I was wrong about termites when A) I’m an entomologist and he is not and B) my labmate at the time WORKED WITH A DRYWOOD TERMITE! I’ts not like I didn’t know what I was talking about. Pterotermes soldiers have huge, amber colored heads and are not entirely white, though the exterminator swore up and down that I was wrong because ALL termites looked like the ones in his picture. Similar encounters have persuaded me that your average pest control person doesn’t really know what they’re doing. When I want to get rid of something, I usually find someone in an entomology department or an extension service that knows about the insect I’m trying to control because they have a much better idea of what they’re doing – and aren’t in it for the money either.

  4. I happened upon your blog today while doing some Ode research. The Terminix alert reached our local “Bug” Yahoo group on Friday and was forwarded to several other groups immediately. Several phone calls and many e-mails later, the ad was removed. If you noticed, the home page for the ad was not Terminix but as was explained to us, a third party which did some outsourced work for Terminix. Apparently, they linked to Terminix to gain recognition. I don’t totally exempt Terminix from any wrong doing but I do think they were taken advantage of by the third party. Hopefully, the outcry will serve notice to any other exterminators exercising this dastardly deed. Good “bugging” to all.

    Bob Moul

  5. maybe the word got out because they no longer list dragonflies and you can only find the original page as a cached version. Unfortunately they still list many other harmless insects such as antlions, mayflies, stoneflies and even the praying mantis. They claim praying mantids maybe upsetting the natural ecosystem by taking beneficial insects.

  6. I’m always baffled by the terms “beneficial insect”. I understand the concept, but it always smacks of short-sightedness to me. Mosquitoes pollinate flowers in addition to biting people and spreading diseases. Most mosquitoes don’t bite people, actually, but they all fall to human anti-mosquito efforts.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t have mosquito control programs or anything, I’m saying that being good stewards of the world requires a more nuanced view than “beneficial” and “harmful”. Nature isn’t divided up into black hats and white hats.

    • True! Mosquitoes even benefit humans to some extent because they support many fish species that depend on mosquito larvae for food, tasty fishes that we like to eat (well, not me, but you get the idea). The whole concept of beneficial vs. harmful is completely anthropocentric and it drives me nuts too. Still, many people know only that many terrible diseases in humans are vectored by mosquitoes and aren’t aware that there are reasons why we might want to keep them around. We focus so much on these diseases that any benefits or neutral traits mosquitoes exhibit as they pertain to humans are completely lost. And as much as we scientists might not appreciate the division of the biological world into beneficial, harmful, and neutral, I think we also have to be realistic: this is the way a LOT of people see the world. We have to remember that the major political powers of the world and a good part of the world’s population are capitalists. As capitalists, we are taught to see the world in terms of costs and benefits, black and white. People often need an economic incentive to take environmental action – you need to convince people that the cost of protecting something is worth the price. Sadly, the misery mosquitoes cause in the form of disease means they are perceived to take more than they give back to humans. Until we can pin some sort of economic incentive onto mosquitoes, I fear we will continue seeing all mosquitoes as harbingers of doom as opposed to a vital part of the ecosystem.

      Today’s culture of fear doesn’t help matters. Think of what we’ve heard about mosquitoes in the news over the last few years. Western equine encephalitis! West Nile! Genetically modified mosquitoes being released into the wild in an effort to end yellow fever! Shortening the lifespan of mosquitoes to combat malaria! Disease disease disease! That’s all anyone reads about, so how are they supposed to appreciate the fact that mosquitoes have any other role in the environment?

      It’s with this state of affairs in mind that I used the phrase “beneficial insect” in regard to dragonflies. People are taught to fear or despise mosquitoes. Similarly, a lot of people are scared of dragonflies because they’re big, scary looking insects, their parents taught them to be scared of or disgusted by insects, there’s a stigma against liking insects, etc. Those people, the ones who are scared or think that dragonflies are disgusting, are the ones who would pay to have dragonflies removed from their yards. Those are the people I most want to reach with this post. By saying that dragonflies are beneficial insects, I am simply providing an idea to consider, that these insects do something that DIRECTLY benefits them: they rid them of another insect that they like even less. I’m putting it into that black and white context that so many people feel comfortable with, showing them that dragonflies give more than they take, so that they invest in protecting them rather than destroying them.

      But I wholeheartedly agree with you. The nuances are important. The world isn’t black and white. I just think that making a public argument in favor of insects aimed at people who hate insects enough to pay a lot of money to have them removed from their yards requires a particular set of persuasive tools. “Beneficial insect” just happens to be one of those tools in this case.

  7. Oh my goodness, I had no idea anyone could be so bothered by dragonflies as to want them exterminated from their yards! This is a wonderful post, though, in outlining the reasons why that’s a bad idea. I’ve yet to personally deal with a pest control service, and hope I never have to.

    I just spent two weeks in Ecuador helping a bunch of scientists collect dragonflies/damselflies for research, they really are such fabulous insects!

    • You would be surprised by how many requests for information about dragonfly extermination I get! There are a lot of people who are very scared of them and just want to get rid of them. Between this and a company actually offering it at a service (albeit briefly), I thought I should actually say something. I don’t see how exterminating dragonflies is ever a good idea so I’m hoping to convince some of the people who would be inclined to pay someone to kill the dragonflies in their yards that maybe it’s not in their best interests to do so.

      I’ve been reading your blog posts and I’m envious of your trip! It looks like it was a lot of fun! And you got to spend it with odes, which is even better. :)

  8. Ironically I found this blog post as I was researching ways to get rid of dragonflies. Nothing personal against the insect as I am fully aware of their benefits and lack of hazard to human beings. Unfortunately for me my appreciation for them can only come this far since I have a strong dragonfly phobia. And until the phobia goes away (somehow) the possible availability of extermination services will always seem attractive for someone like me.

    I know people wouldn’t agree with this. I’ve heard all the arguments so don’t waste your breath. Again I fully acknowledge and respect the beneficial aspect of the dragonfly. But in order to for me to make my life easier I will take the steps necessary to do so. At least within my own sphere of influence. Anywhere else outside my property I’ll just have to try and let it go.

    I’m sorry I cannot fully see eye to eye with all you fans. Honestly I wish I could. Like I said…until this phobia goes away (somehow) the idea of extermination will always seem appealing.

  9. Hi, I’ve stumbled across your post today reading about mosquitos and dragonflies and I was hoping to get some advice, but I think it would be beneficial if you understood why I’m seeking help. I’ve been reading up on mosquitos recently due to the fact that I seem to be a tasty buffet to them… and I’m tired of it. I decided to take action when this particular event occured. Less than a week ago I saw a mosquito land on my fathers hand, move around, going from finger to finger, than fly to me and bite me… ME!!!!!!!!! So I decided I need to do something… From what I’ve read it seems to me that dragonflies would be the best bet… 1 there cool looking and 2 I’m not a pesticide/toxic kinda guy. I was just hoping to get some advice on how to get some dragonflies where I am…
    I’m in desperate need of bodyguards… XD

    • Hmmm… Actually bringing in dragonflies is probably not feasible as they are very mobile. Even if you released them in your yard, there would be no way to keep them there! If you have so many mosquitoes, you might get lucky enough to attract some dragonflies though. Dragonfly swarms often form in areas with lots of mosquitoes. (I’ve got a blog post about the reasons why dragonfly swarms form here: http://dragonflywoman.wordpress.com/2010/09/22/staticswarms/) I would recommend providing a small pool of water to attract dragonflies except the reason you want the dragonflies is to get rid of the mosquitoes. Mosquitoes develop in standing water and you don’t want to be breeding mosquitoes in your yard if you already have a problem with them! Unfortunately, I think you’re going to have to hope the dragonflies come in on their own.

      As a person who is highly attractive to mosquitoes myself (I despise mosquitoes…), I think your best bets are these alternatives:

      1) Wear lightweight long sleeved shirts and long pants while outside. I know it’s not always pleasant, but covering up your skin goes a long way to protect you from bites! There are also hats you can buy with mosquito netting attached to them, like these: http://www.rei.com/category/4500559?ref=751951. They look kinda stupid to wear, but they do keep mosquitoes off your neck and face very effectively.
      2) Mosquitoes are most active at dusk, so avoid going outside during that time if you can. Wear protective clothing (see #1) if you do go outside during that time.
      3) Use a natural insect repellent on exposed skin. You can get some lovely non-DEET repellents now (like http://www.rei.com/product/815472/repel-natural-insect-repellent-pump-spray-6-fl-oz), or you can mix about a teaspoon of lemon eucalyptus essential oil into a cup of water, pour into a spray bottle, and spray it onto your skin. It smells like citronella, but it works well for me! DEET repellents work very effectively, but it’s best to avoid getting them on your skin if you can avoid it.

      Yeah, so not what you were hoping for I know, but short of building yourself an awesome pond in your yard and then caring for it so that it doesn’t become infested with skeeters, I don’t think you should count on the dragonflies for help!

      Are you by any chance located in New England? I have been hearing stories about mosquito explosions up there, so I’m curious.

  10. Thank you for the tips, and no I don’t leave in new england. I live in a small town called st-sophie in quebec… and we leave next to a small lake… so that explains the mosquitos I believe… I’ve seen dragonflies passing by but… don’t think theres enough to keep up with the mosquitos… Thanx again for your time and good luck.(good luck is always enjoyable…)

  11. Thank you for the great information about dragonflys! I sit outside in the morning to drink my coffe and several fly around my backyard. I love watching them but get a little nervous when they come close to me. Now I know that they will not bother me makes me feel better and I can just enjoy them. Again, thank you for the info!

    • You’re welcome! Glad it was useful, and I’m so happy to hear that I’ve contributed to your overcoming your nervousness around the dragonflies. I actually got a report a few days ago from a man who was at a nudist colony and wandered around a large dragonfly swarm with his wife with absolutely no problems. Though I am not prone to wandering around naked with other people, I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to do so myself if I were ever to embrace the nudist lifestyle. :)

  12. We have always loved dragonflies. This evening we were sitting in our yard and saw a large swarm of them. We have never seen a swarm of dragonfiles before. We were also wondering why so many insects were out bitting us while we were enjoying the swarm. I happened across your blog while researching this and found it to be very informational. We really enjoyed seeing so many dragonflies at once and thanks to you we know now that they were not only beautiful but were helping us get rid of the bitting pest in our yard.

  13. Shiny response to your blog. You changed the world just a little bit. What drongos.
    I was bitten by a Petalura giganteous. OOOWWWW.
    Other species bites are to be lauged at.

  14. I came upon this site while doing some research on dragonflies because yesterday I saw a swarm of them in my yard and I was kind of scared that I was going to be attacked. After reading your blog, I am looking forward to seeing more of them as I am a magnet to mosquitoes.

    • Dragonflies are GREAT insects to have around if you have mosquitoes in your area! I’ve gotten reports from several people who have stood in the middle of swarms in their areas who have told me that there were absolutely no mosquitoes in the swarm while there were a lot outside. Dragonflies are excellent mosquito eaters! Glad to hear I convinced you. :)

  15. I read your article because I have lots of dragonflies in our backyard. Mostly red ones with red wings. They are very pretty. We have a pool with a waterfall and lots of plants and a vegtable garden. I guess it’s a nice little environment for them. My children love to watch them zoom around and land on the tomato cages. We also get hummingbirds in our yard too!

    • So glad to hear that you have a little dragonfly oasis in your yard! Fun. Also glad that your kids enjoy them – that’s great! I’ve heard a lot of moms complain about dragonflies in their yard because they’re worried their children will be hurt by the insects, so it’s nice to hear from someone who recognizes that dragonflies are harmless to people and lets her kids enjoy them. You rock!

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