Join an intrepid dragonfly chaser
You seem to know little or nothing about the larval, aka nymph, stage in the life cycle of dragonflies. Dragonfly nymphs are among the most badass predators in ponds, creeks, marshes, or anywhere with relatively slow-moving freshwater. They hang out in the shallows and any other small organism in the area had better watch out because a dragonfly nymph will grab them and eat them! They look totally creepy and I remember when I worked in environmental education, how the kids and even adults with whom we were doing surveys of aquatic invertebrate communities as indicators of water quality, almost always kind of freaked out the first time they saw a dragonfly nymph. e.g. What is that creepy looking creature? It's like a monster. Looks like a transformer. Ouch, it pinched my finger.
And you indeed had better watch out if you're handling them because they will pinch you hard, in particular the large darners. It's shocking how much force their tiny mouthparts can apply, relatively speaking!
And it's the larval stages, not the adults of various dragonfly and damselfly species which provide the best read about water quality. But nymphs aren't usually around if adults aren't in the area so people may misread the presence of adults as indicative of water quality when it's really more about the total community of aquatic invertebrates actually living in the water. Mayflies and stoneflies, for example, are far more sensitive than dragonflies to degradation of water quality and their larvae will not be found at all in the least polluted streams. streams. The habitat has to be pretty pristine to find them present.
I kind of hate the fact that you're encouraging people to capture winged insects with no instruction because it's so easy to damage a wing if you don't know what you're doing. And if that happens, and they can't fly, they're doomed because they won't be able to forage or escape a predator like a bird. I know from experience that it is not that hard to sneak up on a dragonfly or damselfly if you want to take a photo. If you move slowly and don't make any sudden movements, you can almost always creep up to where you're less than five feet away from them or even closer. And if they're flying around flitting from spot to spot, you need to be patient and wait for them to land. I know because I've done that hundreds of times myself, even though I decided decades ago that I wanted to be fully present when I'm in the field for whatever reason, rather than trying to get the best photo. So I rarely take photographs of anything out in the field nowadays unless it's important for identification, to document the presence of a rare native species or an invasive exotic species not known to be present in the area, to document the presence of a threat or injury, or for some actual purpose. I'm not saying you're wrong to take photos, I just don't do it much any more without a specific reason.
I'd love for you to encourage readers to participate instead one of the citizen science-based stream quality monitoring programs sponsored by chapters of the Isaak Walton League, regional Audubons, and nature centers. Some states even have citizen science programs like to which people can contribute real data important to conservation by capturing aquatic invertebrates when they're living in the water and are far less delicate than winged animals, by using simple keys to identify them to order. That's the lowest level of taxonomic detail necessary to assess stream water quality under these protocols which are pretty much the same no matter who's sponsoring the project, and largely based on the one originally developed by the Isaak Walton League. And if you really get into it you can learn to identify some of these animals to genus and a few even to species with a little study. Those data aren't necessary but they're welcome if you have them and certain about your identification.
In my experience, children of all ages — I've had healthy adults in their 80s participate — love participating in these programs. They can makes a real contribution to conservation rather than participating in what's pretty much strictly a sport. And it's a lot harder to injure what they're studying.
I'm glad you wrote this article but I do hope you'll consider what I'm saying. Thanks for listening.
p.s. I also meant to mention earlier that since you didn't talk about migratory dragonflies, I'm wondering whether you're aware of the species that migrate — some of them being quite long-distance migrants. I tried to share a link to an article about that but I keep being unable to send this because I get a message saying embedded links are not allowed for anonymous users. If you do want to check out this article, you should be able to find it by Googling "Migratory Dragonfly Partnership." I actually just discovered this and have not even read the article yet. I found it while looking to see which dragonflies species migrate because I was pretty sure there were more than just the one I talk about below! They appear to have citizen science projects going on per the brief summary shown on the Google results page.
I'll never forget being in South Mississippi in 2003 doing fall migration bird surveys at sites up in the woods 45 minutes or an hour from the coast, but being in Pass Christian right on the coast, and in fact right across the street from the Gulf of Mexico, for an arts festival one afternoon into evening after I got done with work, which started well before sunrise and typically ended by early afternoon. Shortly before sunset, maybe an hour in advance of it, all these green darners started showing up and flying around over a big concrete pad in a park where they set up bands and such that needed a solid surface. More and more dragonflies showed up until there were hundreds of them circling over this rectangle of concrete probably 15 x 20 meters in area at most. They were clearly taking advantage of the heat rising up from the concrete, which had been in full sun all afternoon on what was still a pretty hot day down there in the Deep South, and attracting smaller insects as the temperature started to cool off as sunset approached. I couldn't figure out why there'd be so many of them there, and I started wondering whether they migrated because it was like birds foraging madly right before they set off on their long flight across the Gulf. I learned later that was most likely exactly what they were doing! I don't know if you knew that some species of dragonflies migrate, but most people aren't aware of this phenomenon although many are familiar with the migratory behavior of monarch butterflies. They're always so astonished when I tell them that some dragonflies migrate, too!
While we have dragonflies here in western NY, as they are everywhere, when I lived in Florida there wasn't a moment when dragonflies weren't around. Many were dull and grey, though still beautiful up close, but there was no shortage of every color of the rainbow, too. They perch and hold still for the camera. I have tons of great pics and it was a lot of fun capturing the images.
I live in the western OK panhandle, and we always have tons of dragonflies. In the cool evenings and early mornings, there are so many it's like a fairy land.
I live in Somerville in North Alabama. This year I noticed that there were a large number of Dragonflies hovering around my hard. I counted more than a hundred one day. I have always had some, just not that many. We also had a large crop of Mosquitos from the exceptionally wet summer. Do they feed on the Mosquitos?
One of the thousand reasons to love dragonflies is that they do a number on the mosquito population. In the nymph stage, they gorge on mosquito larvae, and as adults, they catch mosquitoes out of the air by the hundreds. Wonderful that you've seen a dragonfly swarm--that's not a common sight!
We have a large koi pond which attracts three or four different kinds of dragonflies. Each year we have a pair the jumbo bright orange ones; they are first to appear in early summer and last to go at summer's end. I often wondered if they are the off-spring of the previous year's pair and where did they lay their eggs. Was it around the edge of our pond somewhere? They are delightful to watch and very meditative for us humans to observe. I would love to have seen one with a two foot wingspan.
If you live in the West, Julianna, you may well have Flame Skimmers (Libellula saturata), also called Firecracker Skimmers. The males are bright orange and the females duller brown, so you may have two pairs, in fact. They are likely laying eggs in the koi pond--the youngsters burrow down in the mud eat all sorts of aquatic insects. Your pond has probably hosted many many generations of these dragonflies!
I see several people asked why you would want to catch them and I had an opposite reaction. I thought, 'oh my goodness, that would be amazing to see them up close and hopefully know them in a new way.' I wouldn't want to traumatize them though, so maybe I'll try to attract them like Don M. does, to see if they will light on me. I've had a butterfly sit on me for hours, fly away and return again and again. It was pure magic and I too wondered about the butterfly's ability to think, whether it had the ability to be aware of the connection I was so thrilled to make.
I find the dragonfly a most interesting, smart creature.
I live in Canada, in Ontario, and see many dragonflies near my dock on the lake, their wings match the sound of my voice, and after about a half hour of coaxing the dragonfly being very inquisitive of me will eventually land somewhere on my body, even my head, it sits and seems to listen to my every word.
What a wonderful, inquisitive, beautiful bit of nature, love them.
I wish we could see you talking this dragonfly language--it sounds like you've tapped in to a frequency that Orpheus himself would be envious of, gathering the animals around his feet. What a pleasure it must be to live among them that way.