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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10 thoughts on “Friday 5: Swarm Stories

    • That’s what I think every time I read them! I just love them. I thought the swarm I saw was amazing (one of the best experiences of my life!), so it makes me really happy when I read about other people who had similar, life-altering experiences upon seeing them. The human element of this project is fantastic – and I think might help me sift through all of the data at the end and help eliminate data points that have insufficient or questionable information too. Of course, the people who report swarms to me are overwhelmingly people who saw a swarm, wondered what was going on (either due to an interest in nature and/.or animal behavior or because they were scared/disturbed), were curious enough to look it up online, found my blog, and were willing to spend a few minutes filling out my form. They seem to be pretty motivated people. My participants rock!

  1. Makes me feel disappointed that I haven’t seen one. Curses!

    I have seen some other insects swarming, of course. Ant swarms are common during the summer, and impressive in their own right. And if you can’t find a cloud of white-flies dancing around each other, it just isn’t summer.

    • Don’t you live in Florida? If so, just keep an eye out for them and you’re bound to see one eventually! There are a ton of dragonfly swarms there. It helps if you live near a coast, but they pop up all over Florida.

      • I’m the least near the coast you can be and still be in Florida. I’m the only person without lake front property in Lake County. (Slight exaggeration. : – )

        It’s probably just one of those things. I’ve been tracking the wildlife in my yard for most of my adult life and it wasn’t until last week that I saw a freaking armadillo here. I’ve seen armadillos all kinds of places around Florida. I’ve seen them in my neighbor’s yards. I’ve found armadillo tracks! I’ve found the occasional dead one. But for my live yard list? Not until last week!

        And I still haven’t seen an actual opossum here. What’s up with this!

        I think I just have weird luck. In all the time I’ve been traipsing through Florida, do you know I’ve only run into venomous snakes twice? We’re the venomous snake capital of the US! Mind you, the one time was pretty impressive. I was with a field trip and we suddenly realized the field we were in was positively swarming with cottonmouths. Awesome! Seriously, that was neat. I’ve also run into one coral snake.

        By comparison, I’ve encountered fake rattlesnakes twice. This cannot be a normal ratio. : – )

        • Ha ha ha! I love your comments. They amuse me to no end.

          I’ve never seen a live possum (or an armadillo) in my yard either if it makes you feel any better. Granted, we don’t get them here… :) And I’ve only seen one possum in my life, a tiny little one that fell into my aunt’s trash can in Kansas and became trapped. It took everyone a while to figure out why the trash can hissed every time someone walked by, and then we discovered this REALLY pissed off little possum in it. We drove him out to the lake and let him go. Exciting experience when you’re 10 or 11 years old and haven’t ever seen a possum! That’s one of my favorite memories of visiting my family during the summers actually.

          I also feel like I see very few venomous snakes for someone who lives in a venomous snake heavy part of the country. Never seen a coral snake (I’d like to! That and a gila monster are the two things I still haven’t seen in the wild and really want to) and I think I’ve seen maybe 6 rattlesnakes in the wild. That’s pretty pathetic considering I’ve lived here almost 20 years altogether! On the other hand, I am kinda terrified of snakes (for no good reason), so I’m not complaining. Your cottonmouth experience is pretty much my worst n nightmare! Glad you thought it was “neat” though. :)

          • I’m pretty sure that the teacher and myself were the only people in that group who considered the experience “neat!” : – )

            It helped that it was a very cold morning and the snakes were all very sluggish. That made getting out of the field without incident much easier. Had it been a warm summers day, I’m sure I would have been a lot more nervous.

            Love the Hissing Garbage Can story!

            Coral snakes are just beautiful. I think they’re prettier than the two species of coral-snake mimic we have locally (only one of which have I seen in the wild, but sadly my snake-fu wasn’t good enough at the time to tell which it was!), probably because they’re a bit glossier.

            My fun coral snake story: I’m traipsing through the nature trail at the local community college and I find a coral snake curled up on the sand ahead of me. Sweet! I says to myself and I prepare to take a picture. As I’m getting my old manual camera focused on the animal, a leaf falls out of the tree and covers the snake’s head! How annoying, it’s ruining the picture! I’ll fix it!

            I just barely stopped myself from instinctively brushing the leaf off the venomous snake’s head.

            Yeah, I really shouldn’t be allowed outside without supervision. : – )

  2. It was gratifying to learn that dragonfly swarms actually exist. That means what I saw in my urban front yard last week was in fact, a swarm. There were at least 20-40 large dragonflies hovering and darting around in my front yard…about 80 feet by 40 feet. As I watched for a few minutes, a large blackbird of some kind swooped down and captured one. A few minutes later another OR the same bird repeated the action. That happened several more times. I also noticed that starlings were flocking above the “swarm” but they were up at least 100 feet in the air. Perhaps the dragonfly congregation extended up that far…can’t be too sure with my imperfect vision.

  3. Pingback: The Dragonfly Woman « Truth not Beauty

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