Nature Talk, May 18 2023: “Small Wonders”

by Chris Baburek

On May 18th the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists held the final meeting of the 2022/23 program year.   It was also the final presentation with the theme of “Small Wonders” and, fittingly, was on the subject of dragonflies and damselflies. The speaker was Colin Jones, a lifelong naturalist and the Provincial Arthropod Zoologist at the Natural Heritage Information Centre, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry in Peterborough, where he deals primarily with rare species.

Colin began with a description of the Odonata order, consisting of dragonflies and damselflies.  He explained the differences between the two suborders. Colin then went on to describe their life stages and the importance of water in their life cycle.  All dragonfly and damselfly species in North America spend their larval stage, which is most of their life cycle for most of these species, living underwater.  Once they emerge, dragonflies and damselflies are aerial acrobats as they have four large wings which can all move independently of each other.  A captivating video of a dragonfly in the final stages of shedding its exoskeleton was shown.  Odonata are voracious predators and will even feed on items larger than themselves, and sometimes their own kind.  They are prey for many types of birds, frogs, spiders, and carnivorous plants.  Colin also explained their fascinating mating behaviour, which is unique to dragonflies and damselflies.

Colin described his work at the Natural Heritage Information Centre (NHIC), where they have catalogued and ranked 177 Odonata species in Ontario, 58 of which are provincially rare. He included the locally-found Rapids Clubtail dragonfly which is threatened in Ontario, primarily due to the degradation of river habitats.  As coordinator of the Ontario Odonata Atlas Project, Colin encouraged MVFN members to become involved in such citizen science initiatives.  He recommended using a net and a field guide, one of which he co-authored: “A Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Algonquin Provincial Park and Surrounding Area”.  He listed several organizations which specialize in Odonata and recommended contributing to the Ontario Odonata iNaturalist Project.  He also described the NHIC Rare Species of Ontario Project, which is used for conservation and land-use planning purposes.

Finally, Colin laid to rest the myth that dragonflies are dropped from helicopters to eat mosquitoes. He believes it came about because dragonflies tend to emerge in large numbers when the conditions are right.  But the reality is, scientists are not able to breed that many in captivity and Odonata prefer deerflies and other flies to mosquitoes, as they are “meatier”.

Stay tuned for more details of the next MVFN program year which begins in September.  We are excited about the new theme of “Nature Near and Far”.  Wishing everyone a wonderful summer and many exciting nature discoveries!

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