Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Leggy

When I went to Bug Shot in August, I came across dozens of different spiders.  I almost walked into the web of this one, and caught sight of it just before I ended up with a spider on my face:



Now I’m not entirely sure how I would respond to having a spider on my face, but I used to be really scared of spiders when I was a kid (I had recurring nightmares about them being in my bed!) and I suspect that would come pouring back out if face-spider contact had occurred.  Thankfully, I noticed it in time and snapped a few shots of this beauty rather than screaming like a little girl and making a total idiot out of myself in front of all the other bug lovers at Bug Shot. :)


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

2012 Dragonfly Swarm Project Year-End Report: Conclusions

Dragonfly Swarm Project logo

It’s time for part 3 of the yearly Dragonfly Swarm Project report! Today, I present the results of the predictions I made last year based on the data you all have contributed over the last 3 years, plus I’m proposing a challenge to you. Last year I made three predictions, so I’ll address those first, but then I want to get some feedback from YOU and see what you think. Ready? Let’s go!

This year was an interesting year in many ways, so the conclusions I thought were going to be so clear-cut and consistent from year to year aren’t necessarily as predictable as expected. That makes for exciting science though! The first prediction was the most straightforward:

Old Prediction: Dragonfly swarming will be most commonly reported east of the Missouri River in the U.S.

This is the one constant in this project each year. The space between the Missouri River and the Mississippi River typically produces several swarms each year, but I think it’s safe to make a new prediction based on the data gathered so far:

New Prediction: US dragonfly swarms are most common east of the Mississippi River.

As I stated last year, I think a lot of this has to do with the amount of water in the eastern US relative to the west. There is more habitat available to dragonflies in the east and likely more dragonfly individuals present in the wetter areas than in the arid west (though I don’t have data to back this up – will be looking through the literature for evidence). To have swarms, you need a lot of dragonflies in one area. You see dragonfly swarms in the west, but there are often identifiable special conditions that concentrate the dragonflies within an area at the time of the swarm. I have a few ideas about that that I’ll get to…

Old Prediction: Most swarms reported will follow flooding or heavy rains.

This prediction was… partially correct. While there were still reports of flooding or heavy rains in 263 of the 705 swarm reports made in 2012, you’ll notice that that’s not even half the reports. In fact, 314 reports indicated that there was no flooding or heavy rains in the area prior to swarming events, which suggests that rains might not play as strong a role in swarm formation as I previously thought. That said, I still think that flooding is an important factor and if you compare the areas of the country where flooding took place in 2012 and the location of swarms, there appears to be a nice correlation between the two. Sadly, I don’t possess the technical expertise to actually show that to you at this time, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Based on the 2012 data, I have developed a new idea about possible factors in swarm formation, which I’ll discuss later. And I make this prediction:

New Prediction: 40% or more swarms will be observed after flooding or heavy rains in 2013.

I still think heavy rains and floods are a major factor in swarm formation, so I suspect that I will continue to get a lot of swarms reported that occurred with major rains/floods.

Old Prediction: There will be more dragonfly swarms reported from the northern Midwest (Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, etc) in 2012 than in 2011. Similarly, there will be very few reports of swarms from eastern Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

This prediction was based on an idea I had after two years worth of data collection: that areas where there were big weather events and massive dragonfly swarming in one year would not have many reports the following year when that massive swarming was due to flooding.  My idea was that flooding in an area might deplete the nymphal population that would emerge the following year. I made the prediction based on a comparison from two seasons and wasn’t sure it was going to hold true in 2012. However, I crunched a few numbers and made a few maps, and here’s what I discovered. In 2010, there was heavy activity in the north central US, with reports from Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin making up 36.8% of the total reports for the year. Iowa and Illinois alone made up over 20% of the reports. In 2011, however, those five states made up only 7.8% of the reports. Things picked up in 2012 such that 18.9% of observations were made in the north central US. So, that part of the prediction was correct: swarming activity dipped strongly the year after the flooding in these states and then increased the following year. So far so good! But what about that second prediction? I have numbers if you are interested in them, but the map will show it so much more clearly. In 2011, a massive number of reports were made in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, close to half of the reports. The map of the 2011 data in that area looked like this (click images to make them larger), and focus on the four states of interest, that big blotch of nearly solid green on the upper mid-Atlantic states:

2011 Static NE

Clearly, there was a major event happening in OH-PA-WV-VA, and indeed there was a lot of rain and flooding in that area that resulted from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. Lots of flooding meant lots of swarms in 2011. This is that same area in 2012:

2012 Static NE

Now THAT is a huge difference! Clearly there were far more swarms taking place in this region in 2011 than in 2012, so the second part of the prediction held true as well. The sample size is small and it’s hard to make broad conclusions without at least a few more year’s worth of data, but I think the data so far suggest that heavy swarming in a location one year results in low swarming the following year.

That said, there was no obvious and large center of activity this year. In fact, there were only two areas where large swarming events occurred: the New Jersey/southeastern New York area and Colorado. Comparing the 2012 data to 2013 data for Colorado isn’t fair because Colorado is a western state that doesn’t normally have a lot of swarming activity. So, I am going to make this prediction for 2013:

New Prediction: There will be fewer swarms in the New Jersey area in 2013 than in 2012.

Ultimately, however, the event in New Jersey wasn’t one the mega events you all have documented in the last few years, so it might not show the same sort of pronounced dip in activity highlighted in the maps above. Plus, the data from New Jersey is confounded because the eastern migration passes through the state in the fall.  We’ll just have to wait and see what happens!

I have a few ideas about why dragonfly swarms form and why they are important, but in the interest of keeping this post a reasonable length I am going to save them for another post. However, I promised you a challenge, and here it is: what do YOU think? I want to see if you all can come up with exciting, new ideas that I haven’t considered by answering two questions:

1. Why do static dragonfly swarms form? Feel free to list multiple suggestions for why they form at all, in addition to why they form in the locations where they have been observed. And…

2. What roles do you think static dragonfly swarms play in the environment? I.e., why are dragonfly swarms important?

I have my own ideas for about this behavior, but sometimes it’s good to get some fresh perspective.  That’s where you all come in! Feel free to base your answers on your own observations, the information I have shared on my blog, or any other source.  And just to keep things interesting, I’m offering a small dragonfly themed prize pack for a few of my favorite responses. If you want a chance at winning, offer some answers to the questions before 10AM EST Sunday, February 10, when I’ll post the reasons I propose for why these swarms form and why they’re important. I look forward to hearing your ideas!


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

Friday 5: Things I’ve Learned at Science Online 2013

Science Online started Wednesday and hundreds of incredibly talented science writers descended on my city for it. This is my first year at Science Online and I’m having a blast! I’ve gotten to meet a few of my science writing heroes, talked about citizen science with a lot of people, and have learned all sorts of new things in the sessions. There are several bug bloggers here (more about that shortly) and all five of my photo submissions made it into the SciArt show. Super fun! Then there is the swag… Oh, the swag! I wish all conferences gave you science books! That’s a whole lot better, at least to me, than all the water bottles I never use and bags that I end up giving away because I have too many. Free science books are always welcome!

But let’s go back to the things I’ve learned. I’ve been live tweeting as much as possible while trying to check Twitter and write notes and send an occasional e mail (Scio13’ers seem to be masters of online multitasking!), so if you’ve been following me on Twitter the last few days you know that I’ve had some revelations. I’ll try not to repeat too many of those here, but let’s start with this one:

1. Science raps done by a white guy with a degree in medieval literature are darned funny!

Baba Brinkman, performing one of his raps at the Scio13 open mike night

Baba Brinkman, performing one of his raps at the Scio13 open mike night

Baba Brinkman performed some of his science raps today during the morning session as well as last night during the open mike. I absolutely loved them! They were witty, had an excellent beat, and were shockingly educational. I will be the first to admit that I am not a lover of rap. At all. But I think I’m going to buy one – possibly all – of Baba’s albums because his songs are awesome. We had a room of 450 mostly white people yelling “I a African!” That’s really something to see – and it even made sense based on the lesson about evolution conveyed in the song. :)

2. Using personal narrative in science writing can be a great way to bring people into the story and make them appreciate science.

Personal narrative illustration

The doodle from the personal narrative session highlighting some of the stories and points made – click to expand!

I went to a session on the role of personal narrative in science writing and I loved it! Partly I was excited because I was sitting two seat back from Carl Zimmer, only a few seats away from Ed Yong, and Alex Wild was directly in my line of sight, but it was great to hear so many well-respected, amazingly skilled science writers talk about how they have used personal stories to draw people into the science and see the relevance of the science to their own lives. I think I enjoyed this session partly because I like to tell these kinds of stories already, though I have a new idea about how to write them that I’m going to try. Having so many very well-respected science writers validate a writing style that I love to use, however, made it seem so much more legitimate.

3. The ethics surrounding citizen science are Much more complicated than I would have expected – and it is something that all citizen science project leaders should think about.


This has nothing to do with ethics, but this little guy is the official mascot of Scio13 – SciOctopus!

I am very aware of privacy issues related to my Dragonfly Swarm Project and all personal data that I collect is seen by me and no one else, and never will be shared with others. That said, we discussed several things that I hadn’t ever even thought about in the session about ethics in citizen science. For example, if you have people sign consent forms, they often don’t read them, yet sign them. (Guilty!) There are tricks you can employ to force people to read the forms, such as giving a test based on what they read, but I hadn’t ever really considered that you might need to do that. A lot of what we talked about in the session  were related to studies that involve human subjects (such as the face mite project I participated in on Wednesday – had my face scraped with a little metal spatula to try to find mites in my pores for the newest and upcoming Your Wild Life project), but I came away with a lot of new things to think about.

4. People who have been blogging a long time have great ideas for how to keep your blog going strong

Blogging for the long haul moderators

Blogging for the long haul, moderated by Dr. Zen (in kilt/feather mask) and SciCurious (in black mask)

I love blogging and hope I will be able to do it for a long time. But, every now and then you just don’t feel like writing, life gets in the way, or you can’t find the time. I attended a session on blogging for the long haul yesterday that offered a lot of great tips. These included carving out special time for blogging, blogging according to a schedule (I do this!), keeping lists of ideas when they come to you and writing about your favorite, and making the most of super productive times when you write a ton of posts by spreading them out over several weeks or months so that they give you a buffer against writer’s block. I thought this session was incredibly helpful, and the Scio13 organizers recorded it. I don’t know if/when/where it will go up online, but I’ll post the link if it goes online. A lot of people could benefit from it.  I took copious notes too, so let me know if you want to hear any more of the tips shared!

5. Bug bloggers are an incredibly fun group of people!

Alex and Matt laughing

Alex Wild and Matt Bertone – this is what most of us looked like during our outing

There are a lot of familiar faces at Scio13, especially bug bloggers that I have either met in person (largely via Bug Shot) or have been following online. We got together for dinner tonight and it might be the highlight of the conference for me. There’s something about sitting down with a group of people who all have the same eclectic interest as you, who get all the seriously nerdy jokes you tell, and who understand why you do the kinds of things that you do, that is just indescribable. We had to scream across the table to be heard at the noisy bar, but we laughed so hard my stomach muscles still ache. Cheers especially to Alex Wild, Bug Girl, Morgan Jackson, Maryanne Alleyne, Matt Bertone, and Holly Menninger for the great evening!

It’s hard to summarize all the things I’ve learned and discovered at this conference in five bullet points, but this is a taste of what I’ve been doing for the last few days. I’m having a great time, but I’m learning so much at the same time. What a great experience! I’m so happy I am a part of it this year.


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