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Something Wild: New Hampshire's Dragonflies Abound

We’re standing up to our shins in Turkey Pond, on a warm July morning with Pam Hunt, a biologist with New Hampshire Audubon who has spent the last five years organizing, in conjunction with NH Fish and Game, theNew Hampshire Dragonfly Survey. Hunt trained about a hundred volunteers to gather data and help map the distribution of dragonflies across the state. 

  They found 163 species throughout the state from the salt marshes on the coast to Lake of the Clouds, which at 5,050 feet is the highest body of water in NH. Among them were four new species that had not been found in the state before. But as Hunt says “the number of species is less important than where the species are. The actual number of species is determined by thing outside of our control. But knowing whether a species is relatively rare might help us to determine if it is a species we should be thinking about in terms of conservation.” 

Pickerel weeds are bathing in the 80-degree water, an inviting place for Odinates, or Dragonflies. Water is a critical component in the live of the dragonfly. Hunt says “most of their lives are actually spent in the water.” They lay their eggs on the water. When they hatch, the larvae lives for anywhere between 1 and five years on the water, periodically shedding its skin. When it’s ready it climbs out of the water splits open the “exuviae” and unfurls its wings. “It’s one of the coolest things you can imagine watching.”

Credit Pam Hunt; NH Audubon

    As we look around the area, dragonflies are everywhere. Everywhere, that is other than Hunt’s large bug net, which she is swinging around to get us a close look at these impressive insects. They are able to easily dodge her net because, as she says, “Their eyes cover their entire head, so they’re hugely visual creatures.”

As she stalks the wild dragonfly, you realize how difficult it will be to capture one for closer inspection, but with a flick of her wrist and a swish of the net, Pam finally traps a Slatey-Skimmer, “so named, because of its dark grayish-blue color.” The Slatey buzzes futilely against the net as she reaches in and pins the four large and complex wings gently between her fingers.

She explains that the lattice-work of veins on each of the transparent wings provide structure, allowing the dragons to fly. She points to long dark puss-spots at the leading edge of each wing, ‘stigmata’. “They add weight to the wing so the dragonfly knows where the edge of the wing is.”

Chris Martin has worked for New Hampshire Audubon for over 31 years as a Conservation Biologist, specializing in birds of prey such as Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and Peregrine Falcons.
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