Friday 5: Swarm Stories

Since I started collecting dragonfly swarm reports for my citizen science project, I have been fascinated by the stories that people tell about their experiences with the dragonflies.  When I collected reports from the comments on my blog pages last summer, it took ages for me to process the data, but the stories really made the effort worth it.  This summer I’m collecting swarm reports with an automated system to save time, but it makes the experience much less interactive, less personal.  I didn’t want to lose those stories!  So, I added a field to my report form for them.  I wanted to give people the opportunity to share stories because I love reading them, but I figured that very few people would take the time to fill out an optional field.  Much to my surprise, nearly everyone who reports a swarm also shares a story!  Yea!  This week, I’m going to share 5 of my favorite stories that I’ve gathered so far this year.

Anax junius adult

A lot of people consider the dragonfly swarms they witness omens, for good or ill, of things to come.  This one, about a migratory swarm, made me laugh:

“They seemed to have a purpose that morning.  I thought maybe they knew something I didn’t and that it would not be a bad idea to follow them!  :-)”

Pantala flavescens male

I love it when people tell me all sorts of little details about things they’ve seen.  This reporter told me lots of little details, AND suggested that the swarm was an omen, which made for an amusing story:

“My cat sat underneath their swarm and chattered the entire time. Our backyard chicken flock of 3 hens and two chicks were also mesmerized. It was amazing! About a month ago we released 2,000 ladybugs into the yard. We love flying insects in our garden! Dragonflies are very special to me- symbolic of being able to take flight in life in any direction that’s needed and they were a common interest of my late father as well. A bonding point. This swarm happened the morning after my 40th birthday. I was prepping the yard to go away for the weekend on a whitewater rafting trip so it seemed like a magical, good omen for this trip considering the lifecycle of their larvae in fresh moving water!”

Spot-winged glider male (Pantala hymenaea)

I especially enjoy the stories seniors tell me in their reports.  They often include their ages and how many swarms they’ve seen over their lifetimes, which really highlights how unusual it is to see this behavior in many places.  This is a good example:

“I thought it was fun.  They flew all around me but had no intention of doing any harm, nor did they appear frightened in any way.  In my 70 + years on this earth, I have never seen this activity.”

I also like this little story because it highlights how safe people are, even in the presence of hundreds of large, flying insects.  These stories always make me smile.

Tramea lacerata

A lot of people aren’t quite sure what’s going on when they first see a swarm in their yards and they cause a lot of fear in some people.  I like these sorts of stories, where the reporter discusses how they were a little unnerved at first, for one reason or another, but came to enjoy the experience:

“Had trouble wrapping my mind around what I was seeing. Didn’t seem real. I was blaming global warming, insecticides, pollution, etc. But after five minutes or so, I was enjoying the show. They looked like dancing fairies. I’m glad I was at the right place at the right time.  HAVE NEVER HEARD OF A DRAGONFLY SWARM BEFORE!”

Red saddlebags male (Tramea onusta)

And finally, I give you my favorite part of my favorite of all the stories I have been sent.  I’m leaving part of it out because it seems too personal to publish online, even anonymously, but I love it because it is beautiful.  This is the best part:

“Looked up and saw that there are still beautiful and awesome things in this world, if we would only look.”

This is the kind of story that gives me enormous hope for mankind.  That we can see beauty even in the face of awful experiences, like the one this reporter was going through during the swarm, seems so very human.

The stories I get are very diverse.  A lot of them are like the examples I’ve highlighted above.  Others are from people who are absolutely terrified of the dragonflies and don’t want to let their dog or their children in their yards so long as they’re around.  One person’s magical experience is clearly a terrifying ordeal for others.  (As a reminder, dragonflies in swarms aren’t going to hurt you.  On the contrary: they are probably ridding your yard of insects that can actually do damage, such as mosquitoes and other biting flies.)  The stories I read occasionally give me information that’s valuable for my research too, but most of them are just people telling me what they thought or felt about the dragonfly swarm they saw.  They provide a human, emotional component to my biological study.  That’s a rare thing!  It’s also something that I absolutely love about this project.  I can’t wait to read more.


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