Swarm Sunday: 2012 Year End Report, Part 1

Dragonfly Swarm Project logoIt’s that time of year again, time for the Dragonfly Swarm Project year-end report!  As usual, the report will take the form of a series of posts.  Today’s post will focus on some of the demographic data and overall trends in the swarm data, a very general overview of the success of the project over the 2012 season.  Next week (or maybe the week after that as it’s going to require some work and I have a very busy week ahead of me) will highlight the distributional data and swarm maps for the year.  The third post will discuss the year’s findings and the conclusions we can draw from the data you have contributed over the last three seasons.  Then I’m going to end the year-end report like I did last year, with some of the interesting social, psychological, and personal results that I cull from the Other Observations part of the report form.  It seems only fair to share some of the best and most interesting stories with the rest of the world.  But first, let’s consider those overall data trends for the year!

dragonfly graphicChanges to the Project This Year

I had wanted to move the Dragonfly Swarm Project to its own website, but hasn’t happened yet.  I’ve got the domain and have started work on it, however, so look for the Dragonfly Swarm Project make its big move before the US 2013 season!

dragonfly graphic


This year I received 705 reports of dragonfly swarms.  This is fewer than last year’s numbers (1140), but more than the first year’s (652).  I had thought last year that the participation in the project had gone up, but I think there was really just more dragonfly activity last year than usually occurs.  It seems that getting 650 or 700 swarms in a year is normal (that’s about 20% of the people who visit my dragonfly swarm pages) and last year might have been a bit special.  But, that’s why I’m collecting data for 5 years before I publish the results!  It’s hard to see patterns in the data from year to year if it you only a have observations from a few years.

The men were not outnumbered by the women quite as badly this year as they have been in previous years!  Of the reports made by people with names that were obviously one sex or the other, 27% were male and 73% were female.  The women are still ruling the dragonfly swarming data collection, but the men made some strong headway this year.

dragonfly graphic

Distribution of Swarms

You’ll be able to see this information visually when I present the maps in the next post in the results series, but here’s an overview of what the data looked like this year:

  • Swarms have now been reported from 16 countries.  Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and England were added to the list for the first time!  As in previous years, the number of reports in the US outnumbered all other countries combined, but Canada made its usual strong showing.  There were very few south Asian reports and reports from Australia compared to previous years, however.
  • Most swarms were reported in the eastern US this year, similar to last year.
  • There are still reports coming in from both rural and urban areas.  Some of the urban areas are VERY urban, like New York City and Chicago, while some sightings were truly in the middle of nowhere.
  • There were 80 migratory swarms reported this year.  The US states with the greatest number of migratory swarm reports were Florida (12), Texas (9), New Jersey (6), and 4 each in Illinois, New York, and Wisconsin.
  • There were 625 static swarms.  The states with the strongest showings were New York (45), Illinois (45), New Jersey (41), Colorado (33), and Florida (32).  Colorado’s making it into the top 5 is amazing!
  • The fewest swarms were reported in Alaska (1), North Dakota (1), Nebraska (1), West Virginia (1), South Carolina (2), and Nevada (1).  It’s strange to see South Carolina and West Virginia on this list considering last year’s very strong showing in both states.
  • There were swarms reported in 46 of 50 US states and 45 of the 48 contiguous states this year.  There were no swarms reported in Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico, or Wyoming, though Alaska made it onto the map for the first time!  Five Canadian provinces/territories also made it onto the map this year.

dragonfly graphic

The Swarms

Most of the swarms reported were, as usual, static swarms.  The migratory season was very strange this year, but I have an idea for why that might be the case that I will share in the post about the project conclusions for the year.  The usual dragonfly species were reported, when species identifications could be made at all: mostly green darners (Anax junius), followed by wandering gliders (Pantala flavescens), black saddlebags (Tramea lacerata), Carolina saddlebags (Tramea carolina), and blue dashers (Pachydiplax longipennis) in the east, and variegated meadowhawks (Sympetrum corruptum) in the west.

dragonfly graphic

Dragonfly Swarms Online and In the News

Dragonfly swarms pop up online every now and again and I highlighted several specific stories during the weekly swarm reports.  However, one great report just appeared in the New Yorker, a piece by Richard Preston in the Dec 3, 2012 issue (pg 40-42 if you’re interested).  It’s a great story that highlights the magic of dragonfly swarms and how urbanites in a city as large as New York City can take a moment to appreciate an amazing spectacle of nature.  The blog post I did for SciStarter last year continues to get a lot of hits and I was able to collect data from quite a few people there this year.  I like that people are sharing their stories, even when they are not explicitly asked to!  And, I keep adding swarm videos to my YouTube dragonfly swarm playlist.  It’s a month or two out of date now, but it currently boasts 157 videos.

Look for a notice next year about an article that I wrote about dragonfly swarms that will come out in June 2013!

dragonfly graphic

Project Promotion

I was able to do a lot more in-person promotion of the Dragonfly Swarm Project this year than in previous years because I both moved to the east coast and started a job working with citizen science.  I’ve handed out my brochure to a lot of people, wandered through the field station where I work looking for dragonfly swarms with many people, and talked about the project at some of the big events at my museum like BugFest.  The project will soon be added to the museum’s citizen science exhibit.  I also presented my findings at the Public Participation in Scientific Research conference in Portland, OR in August.  It was a ton of fun sharing what I’ve learned with other citizen science loving researchers!  I came away with a lot of new contacts and new supporters, so I consider it a successful trip.

Pachydiplax longipennsi female cleared and stamped


Thank You!

I’m going to end this post with my yearly THANK YOU to everyone who has been involved in this project.  I am continually astounded by how many reports of swarms I get and I couldn’t do this research without you.  Talking to other researchers this year, I’ve come to learn that you all are doing something very special: you’re studying behavior as citizen scientists.  You’re also finding and contributing to the project because you’re curious about an amazing thing you’ve seen and want to learn more.  That’s not typically how citizen science projects are done.  Normally you’d go out armed with knowledge and collect specific data on a specific topic, but you all are looking for information after you’ve already made your observations.  That’s just cool.  You also have an unusually personal connection with the data you submit.  The stories you share of your experiences are fantastic and make this project more fun than I ever would have expected.  And, we are learning awesome things about this behavior together!  I can’t thank you enough for making this possible.  I value each and every one of you and I hope that you will continue making reports and spreading the word long into the future.

I might not get the maps up next weekend, but they’ll be up by the following weekend for sure.  Until then, enjoy your week!


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 © C. L. Goforth

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