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Surveying for Dragonflies

Getting Started

Before you begin surveying dragonflies it is best to learn more about the common species in your area. Purchase a field guide or two and a pair of close-focusing binoculars if possible. The initial focus should be to have fun, learn, and just enjoy the process of discovery and exploration! During this process, you can post photos that you have identified to the MDS Facebook page for confirmation. Once you feel confident about your ability to identify common species, there will be little further need for you to collect them unless specimens are needed to establish new county records. Specimens of uncommon species may be needed to establish the existence of breeding sites. Some familiarity with dragonflies before you start collecting will clearly help you to target your efforts toward species and habitats that will contribute the most knowledge, and to avoid taking unneeded specimens. One more thing - to prevent spread of invasive species, please use this Wetland Protection Protocol!

The Identifcation Process

Some dragonflies and damselflies possess sufficiently distinct characteristics to readily allow their identification in the field. These species can be documented with good quality photographs or even sight records in some circumstances. However, even experienced Odonatists can identify only about 50% of the species they see without capturing them. Another 20-30% of species can be identified in the field by capturing and examining them live with a hand-held magnifying lens. Specimens that are captured and examined in the field can usually be released unharmed. However, you will find that some species can be identified only by examining them with a microscope. The dichotomous keys and microscopes used for identification are expensive, and much terminology must be learned. The learning curve is gradual because a beginner needs to see lots of specimens to understand the subtle ways that similar species differ. Becoming proficient requires a substantial investment of time, effort, patience, and money. Such an investment is certainly not required for cooperators with MDS, but if you do make this commitment, you will be well positioned to add significantly to the knowledge of Odonata in Minnesota. Do all that you can to avoid making misidentifications; if you have doubt about the identity of a species, collect the specimen or don’t record it. The easiest approach for many cooperators will be to send us specimens they are having trouble identifying. We will enter verified records into the statewide database, and will temporarily house the specimens in a secure collection.All specimens will be permanently curated at the University of Minnesota’s Entomology Collection

Photographic Records

Photographic records of the common, easy to identify species will be accepted in most cases. A male Twelve-spot Skimmer (Libellula pulchella) is unambiguous and can be easily IDed from a photograph showing the wing patterns. Other species must be photographed from several angles to show the relevant field marks. This may require you to net the insect and to take hand-held photos from a variety of angles. If there is any question as to the identification of the individual in the photo, if it is a rare species, or if it is a significant range extension for that species, a specimen will be required for ultimate acceptance into the database. Back to the top

Photos can be posted to the MDS Facebook page for assistance in verifying the insects species. Photos of rarities or possible records should be submitted electronically to Odonata Central and must be accompanied by all of the information that one would include on a specimen label (date, locality, name, etc).