Yesterday was a crazy busy day and I didn’t have a chance to finish the post I was working on for today. I’ll post it tomorrow instead! In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek at an image from the post:
Yesterday was a crazy busy day and I didn’t have a chance to finish the post I was working on for today. I’ll post it tomorrow instead! In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek at an image from the post:
It’s time for another year-end summary of dragonfly swarm data! I just did my first formal presentation of this project, so I’ve decided to start incorporating the logos into anything related to the project. For now on, if a post (or page or poster or brochure…) has the logo you see above, you’ll know it’s a part of the Dragonfly Swarm Project. But let’s dive into the data. Today’s topic: distribution of dragonfly swarms and the maps!
In many ways, this year was more satisfying to me data-wise than last year. Part of that has to do with my compulsion to complete sets. Last year, I was missing two continental US states and that really bothered me. Why should Wyoming and Louisiana be left out? This year, there was at least one report in each state of the lower 48! I also received 174% of the reports I got last year, so it was a very good data collection year.
Mapping the year’s data turned out to be quite a big project, however. Marking all 1130 sightings one by one took forever! (Next year I need to figure out a way to map things more easily…) However, some interesting patterns emerged from the data. Like last year, I’m going to present the maps as videos to make the changes from week to week more obvious. Please note: The pushpin colors delineate the two types of swarms, green for static swarms and white for migratory swarms, but each pushpin represents a unique report. Also, the maps are quite small in the movies as you see them below. I highly recommend viewing the maps in full screen mode (click the icon with four arrows in the bottom right corner) and then bumping the resolution up for the best viewing experience.
With that, I present the maps! First up, a series of maps showing the weekly change in the swarm locations. The pushpins are cumulative such that each week’s are added to all the pins from the previous weeks:
Next is a map that splits the static and migratory swarm data for ease of viewing. Here, I’ve shown each month’s pushpins separately, starting with the static swarms and ending with the migratory swarms:
I hope the videos make everything reasonably clear! There are so many ways you can present map data like this, but I wanted to keep things simple. Watching the sightings accumulate each week gives you a good overall feel for the patterns in dragonfly swarms distributions in the US and Canada and I added the second video this year so that you can see when the swarming activity peaks more clearly. I think the maps show several interesting things!
You’ll note right away that the majority of swarms reported this year (like last year) were static swarms. Static swarms far outnumber migratory swarms, especially inland. Static swarms also occurred throughout the season, though they were most heavily reported in the fall. Migratory swarms were much less commonly reported and, though it’s difficult to see in the videos, were most heavily reported after the static swarming activity had mostly died down.
Last year, the center of activity was the midwestern US, the western Great Lakes states and Iowa. This year, the center clearly shifted east a few states to the Ohio/Pennsylvania area. However, there was some early activity in Colorado and along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. I’ll discuss these patterns more in the next post.
It’s a little hard to see in the videos due to the way the pushpins are angled, but the most reports within 20 miles of both the east and west coasts were migratory, not static swarms. The eastern migration was particularly heavy along the North and South Carolina coasts this year, though there was some activity further north as well. The migration on the west coast occurred in the same location as last year, along the northern Oregon coast. Interestingly, there were some differences when I compared the migratory swarming patterns between this year and last. The 2010 migration followed three paths: along the east coast, the west coast, and the Wabash/Mississippi Rivers. This year, there was very little migratory activity in the midwest. I think there’s a reason for this, but I’ll explain it in the next post. For now, just ponder the implications.
In 2010, there were many fewer swarms reported in the west than in the east. It was hard to tell for sure from a single year’s worth of data, but it looks like swarms really are much more rare west of the Missouri River than in the east. I’ll discuss the reasons why next week. When I formally presented my project last week, one person asked if I thought the reason that there are so many swarms in the northeast is because there are so many people living in that part of the country. I thought the question was interesting, but I don’t think the number of people in an area has much to do with the distribution of swarming activity. It surely plays a small role, but I receive nearly as many reports from very rural areas as I do from urban population centers. Also, if the distribution map depended solely on the human population in an area, then I would expect to receive many more swarm reports from the big western cities. Notice the lack of pushpins in areas like Seattle, San Francisco/Oakland, Phoenix. I think the maps show the true distribution of swarming activity in the US, and they’ll only get better as I add more data over the next few years.
Last year, I thought the 2010 swarming activity was something special. I no longer think so. Swarming activity was high again this year, so clearly 2010 wasn’t unusual. I received many more reports this year than last too, which could indicate that this year was even better than last. However, I don’t want to read too much into this. While I definitely received more reports, the project also got a lot of national publicity this year. I can’t separate out the impacts of this surge in the project’s visibility from the overall swarming activity for the year. Based on all the data I’ve received to date, I now believe that swarming is quite a common event! While any one person might not see more than a few swarms in his or her lifetime, the behavior is much more common than I expected! And, thanks to the nearly 1800 participants of the Dragonfly Swarm Project so far, we are collectively learning something new and interesting about a behavior that would be impossible to study alone. This project is an excellent example of how citizen science can help scientists like me tackle biological phenomena that would be otherwise incredibly difficult to research. Go citizen science!
I’ll finish up here with a note. I’m adding a page to the Dragonfly Swarm Project area of my blog that will house yearly maps. If you’d like to compare the data from year to year, these maps are going to be the best way to do so. The page will be up later today, so please feel free to browse the 6 maps that I’ve generated so far.
Check back next week for more 2011 Dragonfly Swarm Project results, the 2011 conclusions!
Have you seen a dragonfly swarm?
I am tracking swarms so I can learn more about this interesting behavior. If you see one, I’d love to hear from you! Please visit my Report a Dragonfly Swarm page to fill out the official report form. It only takes a few minutes!
Want more information?
Visit my dragonfly swarm information page for my entire collection of posts about dragonfly swarms!
Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © TheDragonflyWoman.com
As part of my Ph.D., I’ve had an opportunity to work with the eggs of several different giant water bug species. I’ll talk about my studies and what I’ve learned here eventually, but one of the things I like most about my research has been working with live water bugs from all over the world. It’s a really great perk if you’re a bug geek like me! Today I’m going to highlight 5 species I’ve had living in my office or lab at one point and share a few facts about them.
You’ve all seen this one before! This is the giant water bug I work with most, the back brooder that is native to Arizona. This bug is a fairly good size (usually an inch or more) and has an elegant oval shape that I find oddly pleasing. I think they’re the cutest of the giant water bugs (my completely subjective personal opinion!), but they’re also a lot less aggressive than most of the other bugs I’ve worked with. In fact, they’re rather laid back for water bugs! They’re still a lot of fun to watch though. Granted, they tend to sit very still in one place for long periods of time, but they have some fascinating behaviors that I’ll talk about in future posts.
This is another Arizona native, and one you’ve seen here before. This is the biggest species in Arizona, but actually one of the smallest Lethocerus species overall. Not that 2+ inches makes for a small bug, but giant water bugs get much bigger than these! Medius is a lot of fun to work with, but they’re very different from their Abedus cousins. They’re aggressive, willing to eat anything they can get their claws on, and live in some really disgusting habitats. They’re also emergent brooders and will fight anything that tries to mess with their eggs. I like their feisty personality, though I’ll admit that sometimes they startle me when I feed them. They are rather vigorous when it comes to capturing food and I can say from personal experience that it’s a little disturbing to see a 2 inch long predatory bug climbing up the tweezers toward your hand!
This is another emergent brooding Lethocerus, but indicus is a lot bigger than medius! I’ve only had one live one, but I kept her in a tank on my desk for over a year and enjoyed watching her. She was from Vietnam and made for an excellent conversation piece because she was so enormous. She would also get into these epic battles with the goldfish I fed her, splashing water all over my desk as she wrestled with her soon-to-be dinner. I was really sad when she died, but I’m practical too. Nothing illustrates the giantness of giant water bugs like pulling out my nearly 4 inch long specimen at an outreach event and saying that giant water bugs get even bigger. I wish I could photograph the facial expressions people make upon hearing this news! Many are shocked, really and truly shocked, to learn that there are insects that big living in water. Come to think of it, I should cue up some Jaws music next time I pull my indicus out… Okay, that would be mean and just make people more scared of water bugs than they already are, which is completely against the point of outreach. Maybe I should stick to some nice, quiet Grieg instead, perhaps “Morning” from Peer Gynt. :)
This is another Vietnamese back brooding bug, but this is a genus that we don’t have in the New World. I was so excited to have these! They are odd-looking little water bugs with strangely shaped heads, but their air straps, the little protrusions on the back-end that they use to collect air at the surface, are so beautiful! See those little fluffy bits sticking off either side of the back-end? Those are the air straps and they expand out into these gorgeous feathery things when fully extended. I spent hours watching their respiratory behaviors and filmed many more hours of it. I might revisit the data sometime after I’m done with my degree and have more time to look over my videos again. For now, I settle for looking through my rather terrible photos now and again and remembering how fun it was to have such a great bug in the lab.
Belostoma micantulum is not a giant giant water bug. In fact, it’s one of the smallest species of giant water bug, topping out at about 3/8 inch. They’re surprisingly agile and aggressive little bugs though, and, as you can see in the photo, are willing to capture and eat animals that are relatively quite large. They also have eggs that are big for their bodies that they drag around with them on their backs, one of the reasons that I included them in one of my studies. These little guys came from Argentina and lived only a short while, but it was fun to watch such tiny and fiery little bugs swimming around their bowls like they owned the place.
Ah, water bugs! I just love them! And getting to work with species from other counties is really exciting. Not quite as exciting as it might be to, say, travel to the bugs in their native lands, but pretty darned thrilling for someone who spends a lot of time in a lab like I do. And look out for another water bug post soon! I just had a paper accepted, so I feel like I can actually share one of my favorite studies with you all now, maybe in a few weeks.
I warn my aquatic entomology students that they need to wear close-toed shoes that they don’t care about on field trips because they are going to get muddy, really muddy. The first field trip is the worst because A) they never take my warning seriously (sometimes they wear flip flops or dressy flats! Oy… ) and B) the first trip has the worst mud. Maybe I should just show them this photo, taken during our lunch break, two stops into the first field trip:
This student rinsed her legs/shoes off at each site and never fell into any of the ponds, so this is about as good as it gets on that trip. I am always considerably worse by the time I get home!
A few years ago, one of my Insect Behavior lab students did his independent project using Madagascar hissing cockroaches. Then he left them with me because his mom was “definitely not going to be okay with having them in her house all summer.” I hadn’t ever cared for hissers, and suddenly I had a dozen of them. I was determined to keep them alive, however, so I bumbled my way through the first few weeks and eventually gave all but 2 away. The last two have been my pets ever since.
I hadn’t ever expected hissers to be enjoyable pets. I knew people who’d had hissers, but very few of them kept them as pets that they actually interacted with. I interacted with mine though, and I’ve found them to be really fun! Today, I’m going to share how I care for my roaches in case any of you out there want to get your own roachy pets. (You know you want to!)
But first, let me introduce my roaches. Meet Mr. Darcy:
Mr. Darcy is an active, aggressive, and enormous hisser! He spends a good part of his day hissing, roaming about the cage, and pushing his roomie around. I can hear him hissing all the way in the next room! He entertains me to no end. And this is his equally large roomie, Elizabeth (who else?):
Elizabeth doesn’t hiss and spends most of her day being pushed around by the big bully she lives with or clinging to the walls of the cage near the lid. She’s much less exciting to watch and has a less vibrant personality, but she’s also a lot easier to handle as she doesn’t run around constantly like Mr. Darcy does.
Caring for my pair of roaches has been ridiculously easy! They live in one of those cheap little plastic aquariums that you can get at any pet store:
I’ve set mine up so that they have a 1/2 inch layer of coconut husk in the bottom of their cage. It’s great stuff! It is sold in dense bricks in the reptile section of the pet store, but it expands enormously when you add water. The coconut holds water well, and considering that these roaches are decomposers in forests in the wild, I think it probably mimics their natural habitat fairly well.
If you’ve ever had wild roaches in your home, you are aware that they like to have places to hide. I got my roaches another item from the reptile section of the pet store, a half a hollowed log, to give them a hiding place. My roaches are weird and spend most of their time on top of the log rather than under it…
…but it’s available for the rare occasions when they want to have an out-of-the-way place to go. My setup looks like this:
I feed my roaches a combination of foods. I give them dry dog food because it has a lot of necessary protein and fat in it and they love it. I toss in some of the alfalfa pellets that people feed to rats and other rodents, mostly because I happened to have a lot leftover when the last of my pet rodents died, but also to give them some carbs and nutrients. My roaches also get a mixture of leafy greens (whatever salad greens I have in my fridge) and baby carrots. According to what I’ve read, hissers REALLY love carrots and I’ve found that to be true:
The combination of the dog food, alfalfa pellets, and fresh vegetables provides my roaches a well-balanced diet. I leave alfalfa pellets and dog food in their cage all the time, but I only give my roaches the veggies every few weeks.
My hissers get water several ways. Their main source is a piece of a sponge that I cut up, rinsed very well, and placed inside a yogurt cup lid. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth can suck water out of the sponge and I keep it wet all the time. I also pour water into the coconut husk every few weeks to rehydrate it and spray their cage down with water to keep their log a little damp. I’ve seen them suck water droplets off the side of the cage, the log, and the bedding, so they seem to take advantage of any water that I provide.
Then it’s just a matter of cleaning out their cage! I only clean them every few months as they’re not very messy and I don’t have to worry about mold most of the year. Cleaning them is a simple matter of removing the roaches (and listening to Mr. Darcy hiss – I imagine him screaming, “Put me down, you miserable wench!”), removing the dishes and log, dumping out the coconut husk, and then putting new coconut in before replacing everything else. Easy!
If you happen to have a male and a female, you can tell you’re doing a good job caring for your roaches when you find a whole bunch of these in the cage:
Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth just had their first children! The little roaches mean I’m going to need to ramp up my care a bit so I’m providing more food more often. I also had to add a layer of fine mesh to the lid to keep them from escaping through the slats, but their care is otherwise exactly the same.
Hissers are great insect pets, especially for children, because they are completely harmless: they don’t bite, they don’t fly, they don’t sting, they’re not inclined to run very quickly, and they’re large. They usually stop hissing once they get used to being handled, but Mr. Darcy isn’t your average roach. He’s 33% bigger than any other hisser I’ve seen and he always hisses. But that’s part of what makes him so fun too! If you have more than one roach, you can also see how each has its own personality. It’s really fun to see how different my two roaches are, and they’re both completely different from the roaches I’ve worked with for outreach events. Their personality makes them feel a little more like a traditional pet rather than a giant insect too, which is always a plus when I have to explain why I have roaches as pets.
So, you all want pet roaches now, right? (Hah!) If you do, there are a few options. Pet stores that specialize in reptile often have them for sale. They should cost less than $3. Or, you can buy them online and have them shipped to you in the mail. Unless you live in Arizona. Or California. There are weird restrictions for mailing animals to some states, so check with the supplier before buying to be sure they can be shipped to your home.
My roaches are probably the lowest maintenance pets I’ve ever had and I enjoy watching them, so I’m happy that I got dumped with reject roaches. I know it will probably seem a little strange to many of you reading this, but they really have been fun pets. I highly recommend them!
It’s time to wrap up this year’s Dragonfly Swarm Project data collection and give you all the year-end report! I’ll follow the same format as last year, so today I’ll discuss the project and the data itself – who participated, how many people participated, basic information about where swarms were seen, etc. Next week I’ll move on to a complete discussion of the distribution of this year’s swarms and I’ll finish the official report with a post of the conclusions that are emerging from the data that I’ve collected so far. I might also add in a fourth post this year that includes some of the interesting tidbits of information that people share with me in the “Other Observations” section of my online form. It’s the part of the form where people tell me anything they wish to share about their swarms and I find these bits of information absolutely fascinating. (If you missed it, I did a Friday 5 during the summer that included my 5 favorite swarm stories.)
But first, I feel that I should thank everyone who has participated in my project! You all have made the Dragonfly Swarm Project a much bigger success than I had ever expected and I am learning some very interesting things about dragonfly swarming behavior thanks to your help. The project is starting to get the attention of some big names in science communication and more and more people are participating. Your data have also allowed me to become a part of the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership, a scientific collaboration of several dragonfly researchers to study migratory swarms. I’ll be working with some of my scientific heroes as a part of the Partnership, and it’s all thanks to you. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Let’s dive into the data!
Changes to the Project This Year
Last year I collected data via comments on blog posts. This year, I developed an online form that deposited the data directly into a database. Due to the form’s length and detail, I had expected participation to decrease. According to my blog statistics, however, the % of page views that resulted in submitted reports was nearly identical to last year.
Last year, I received just under 650 reports by the year’s end. This year, I have received 1129 so far, and reports are still trickling in. Participation clearly went up!
Interestingly, participation by women once again far outweighed participation by men such that about 8.5 of 10 reports were contributed by women. I think this is fabulous considering women are usually outnumbered by men in the sciences. Apparently women rule citizen science!
You’ll get more detailed information about this next week when I post the year’s maps, but here are the basic stats:
Most swarms reported were static swarms. Also, most of the migratory swarms occurred during the regular migratory season this year, which was a bit different from last year where several migratory swarms were reported a month or two before the southward migration began. Like last year, the most commonly reported dragonflies were overwhelmingly the green darner (Anax junius), followed by the wandering glider (Pantala flavescens), the black saddlebags (Tramea lacerata), the Carolina saddlebags (Tramea carolina), and the blue dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) in the east, and the variegated skimmer (Sympetrum corruptum) in the west. (See the common migratory species and less common migratory species posts for more information about the swarming species.) A few other species were reported to a much lesser extent. Also, every type of static swarm that has currently been identified was reported by several witnesses in several regions.
Reports of swarms popped up on various blogs and other sources across the country. Rather than including them all here at the end of the year, specific reports of interest were listed each week in the Swarm Sunday posts. Also, I gathered every video of dragonfly swarms I could find on YouTube into a playlist. The playlist currently includes 144 videos and is available here.
The Dragonfly Swarm Project got some great publicity this year! It was featured on several websites, including Talking Science (a part of the Science Friday Initiative), Science For Citizens, and Scientific American, and was included as a link from one of the Smithsonian pages! I also created a brochure that was distributed at two major events at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and at a few of my own. I think all the publicity may have been part of the reason I saw the increase in participation this year, so I intend to keep publicizing the project as much as possible in the future.
That’s a quick and dirty rundown of the project stats for the year. Check back next week for the maps!
Have you seen a dragonfly swarm? I am tracking swarms so I can learn more about this interesting behavior. If you see one, I’d love to hear from you! Please visit my Report a Dragonfly Swarm page to fill out the official report form. It only takes a few minutes! Thanks!
Want more information? Visit my dragonfly swarm information page for my entire collection of posts about dragonfly swarms!
Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © TheDragonflyWoman.com
I started this blog as part of a requirement for a science communication fellowship at the Biosphere II that I got in 2009. It worked out well because I had always wanted to start a blog, but I lacked the motivation to keep any of the blogs I started going. The fellowship meant that I HAD to blog and that was all the motivation I needed! I quickly fell in love with blogging. While the other fellows in my cohort were discouraged by the lack of visitors to their blogs and most stopped posting long before their year was up, I was doggedly determined to make my blog work. By the end of the year I was getting over 100 visitors a day, which I considered good at the time. But more importantly, I’d developed a blogging habit. I was hooked and I didn’t want to stop! As a writer, teacher, and insect lover (aka, massive bug geek), I’ve realized that blogging about insects gives me joy for several reasons. 5 reasons in fact. You know what that means! Friday 5!
I love blogging about insects because:
1. It is fun to interact with other bloggers. The insect blogging community is amazing! We’re a fairly small group of people, but I’ve found that everyone tends to band together into this tight-knit, mutually supportive network. The bug bloggers I’ve met in person have all been extraordinarily lovely people and the conversations I have with other bloggers via their blogs and my own are stimulating and entertaining. Being a part of this community makes being a bug blogger an amazing experience! If you listened to Bug Girl’s draft talk for the Entomological Society of America meeting next week, you’ll notice that she mentions how bug bloggers should foster a sense of community and collaboration as we’re all working toward a common goal. I think that’s absolutely true. I don’t feel competitive with anyone else and simply enjoy being a part of the community – and I think a lot of other bug bloggers feel the same way. It’s a great feeling!
2. It’s fun to interact with readers. I hadn’t read many blogs before I started my own, so I didn’t realize that blogging opens up an amazing dialog between blogger and readers! I really enjoy talking to you all. I love the stories you share. I love that you keep me on my toes and correct my mistakes. I love that I can have short conversations with so many people. I love that you ask me questions, though I don’t always have all the answers. And, when I have a chance to meet you in person and exchange more than a few words with you, I am a very happy person! My interactions with you all make the whole experience so much more pleasant, fun, and exciting than it would be otherwise! It’s one of the best parts of bug blogging, in fact.
3. I can share what I know with the world. I blog because I feel like I have something to say. I also have an irrepressible love for insects and it’s difficult keeping that bottled up inside. I have been known to interrupt conversations to correct insect “facts” I overhear (oh yes, I’m that person!), so it’s better that I send my knowledge out into the void and hope someone, somewhere benefits from what I have to say about insects. Like I said, I can’t contain this stuff, and blogging is a much more socially acceptable means of sharing what I know with others than eavesdropping. :)
4. I can spread the insect love. I love insects! I think everyone should love insects. Way too few people love insects though. On the continuum from “Oh-my-god-I-freaking-love-insects!!!” to “Eew-kill-that-terrifying-monster-now!!!”, I know in my heart that most people fall closer to the latter. However, I’m an optimist. I believe that if you write/tell interesting stories about insects, share a lot of photos and/or live insects, and write/talk so that people can actually understand what you’re trying to say, people will move a little further toward the Oh-my-god-I-freaking-love-insects!!! end of the continuum. I might be deluding myself, but I hold tight to this belief and hope that my love for insects is infectious enough to spread to a few people who wouldn’t otherwise appreciate these amazing animals.
5. I learn new things. Every now and again I’ll write about something and realize that I need to do more research before I can post. Out come all the books and internet resources! Several hours later, I’m usually off on some random tangent and have learned several new and interesting things, sometimes even things that benefit my research. I also learn new things from comments I get from readers, especially when people ask me questions that I don’t know how to answer. If the request is reasonable, I often delve into the literature, at least briefly, to try to find an answer. I learn new things from other bug bloggers too. In fact, I’ve found that reading the blogs and Twitter feeds of blog bloggers really helps me keep up with insect news! If you are interested in insect news, I highly recommend the same approach.
There are many other reasons why I think blogging is a worthwhile experience, but these are definitely my top 5. Anyone want to suggest some other benefits of blogging? If so, leave a comment below!