Dragonfly Pond Watch

Pond at Prairie RidgeOne of the things I’m most excited about at my new job is the abundance of easily accessible aquatic habitats at the ecostation where my office is located.  It’s a mere 3 minute walk to the pond and maybe 4 or 5 minutes to the stream.  I’ve never lived or worked that close to any significant body of water, anything more than an artificial pond, so I’m thrilled!  And that means I can also participate in something I’ve been eagerly anticipating since I first heard about it: the Dragonfly Pond Watch.

The Dragonfly Pond Watch is part of the citizen science program under development by the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership (MDP).  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you know that there’s a lot we don’t know about migratory dragonflies, including some basic things such as where fall migrating dragonflies end up at the completion of their migration and the conditions that lead to their movements in the first place.  The MDP is a group of dragonfly experts who want to collectively answer some of these questions.  There are several scientists involved in the partnership, but we can’t be everywhere at every time.  That’s where citizen science comes in handy!  By reaching out to everyone who has an interest in dragonflies, more areas can be sampled more often more easily.  So, one of the goals of the MDP has been to get the public involved to help answer some of the big, basic questions about migratory dragonflies that remain unanswered.

Tramea lacerata

Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata)

The first MDP citizen science project is the Dragonfly Pond Watch, and it’s an easy project to participate in!  You simply visit the project website and register a pond.  Then you visit the pond several times, ideally once a month.  Each time you visit, you collect data about only two species, the common green darner (Anax junius) and the black saddlebags (Tramea lacerata), including the abundance, sex (if you know how to tell the difference), stage (again, if you know the difference), and behaviors of the dragonflies.  There’s a handy dandy datasheet available so you can easily record the pertinent data while you’re in the field.  If you have a camera, you can take and submit voucher photos.  Once you sign up for an account, you submit your data to the MDP via an online form.  Easy!

Pantala flavescens

Wandering glider male, Pantala flavescens

I’ve taken the first step and have registered the pond where I work.  I am down by the pond at least every other day, so I can likely collect data more than once a month.  I am also going a step further and developing programs in which I will educate visitors about dragonflies in general and my own citizen science project as we collect data for the pond watch.  Hopefully people will leave my programs with a better understanding of dragonflies and a warm fuzzy feeling from knowing that they have contributed to science by recording a few simple dragonfly observations.  I can then send everyone home with the pond watch data sheet so they can start up their own dragonfly watch at other ponds.  Every little bit of data collected by citizen scientists helps everyone, including the scientists participating in the MDP, understand dragonflies a bit better.  Because I love dragonflies and want to know more about migration myself, I’d like to get as many people involved in the MDP projects as I can.  I’m in the perfect position to make that happen here too!

Pond at Prairie RidgeBut you all can participate also!  If you have a pond in your area that you can easily visit once a month or more, I highly recommend that you register your pond for the Dragonfly Pond Watch.  Dragonflies are beautiful and exciting animals to watch and getting outside to enjoy nature every now and again is, I think, good for the soul.  Why not help some needy scientists while you’re out there enjoying the view?  You could spend as little as 5 minutes at you pond each visit and still collect valuable data for the Dragonfly Pond Watch.  So get out there and get started!  I think you’ll be glad you did.


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

10 thoughts on “Dragonfly Pond Watch

  1. Did you hear this story on fly flshing on NPR this morning. It talked about more insects in Colorado right now due to drought. Wonder if that might explain the swarms you’ve been hearing about.

      • Yes, it was Morning Edition, this morning. I tried to leave a link but it was deleted. The title was Fly Fishermen Benefit From Low Stream Levels.

        • I was able to track it down and listen to it! I’m not sure whether the drought might be causing any of the increase in the dragonfly swarming or not based on what I heard though. Dragonflies live in the water quite a long time, sometimes multiple years, so low water this year might not actually have any impact on what is emerging and flying now. It might impact the population NEXT year quite significantly though! The more I think about it, the more I am leaning toward the hot, very dry weather being the root of the swarms, which is part of what’s causing the drought conditions too. It was uncommonly hot when most of the swarming was taking place, so it’s been an unusual summer in Colorado so far. If the mosquitoes and other prey insects aren’t doing well and the water is drying up (here’s where the drought is likely to play the biggest role), then they’re likely to start moving out the area en masse. It’s quite possible that what people in Colorado have been seeing are actually migratory swarms as the dragonflies move away from unfavorable conditions in Colorado to better places elsewhere. Alternatively, the dragonflies might be moving into cities in hoardes because people water their grass and there are city pools and urban ponds and lakes in Colorado. If they’re all concentrating around the small amounts of water capable of supporting their prey, then you start to see swarms. Again, this is all speculation, but I think the weather is probably playing a huge role in the swarming activity in Colorado recently, be it excessive heat, drought, the intense storms, the fires, or all of the above. It’s making for some interesting dragonfly conditions! I feel bad for my friends who still live in Colorado though. What a crazy summer they’re having there! Good dragonfly year, but it’s a bad year to be a Coloradan otherwise.

          • Interesting thoughts, don’t you wish you had someone on the ground to check it out. I suppose it seems a small conundrum compared to the drama that so many are facing .

            • Yes! But that’s the whole reason people do citizen science projects – they can’t be everywhere at one time and rely on other people to report their findings. It might just have to remain a mystery until I get more reports about the same kinds of swarms. It’s hard to say anything based on the two that I’ve had reported so far, apart from the fact that I’ve never gotten one from outside Colorado. Strange!

  2. Inspired by your enthusiasm for Dragonflys I started my own citizen’s survey in France last night at a small pond about 20 minutes walk away from the house. All I saw was one damsel fly I cannot identify. I will not give up. Even a negative result in an experiment can yield a lot of information, perhaps this area is very poor in aquatic invertebrates. Perhaps I’ll have to be more patient.

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