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Dragonflies In Droves: Migration Might Be The Cause

Readers report squadrons of dragonflies; experts say maybe migration, maybe mild winter is the cause

Dragonflies. They’re seemingly everywhere this season.

Patch readers over the past week have said they’ve seen squadrons of them at the beach, bevies of them in their backyards and everywhere in between this summer.

So what gives?

Well, no one really seems to know for certain.

“Dragonfly tracking is really just in its infancy,’’ said Pat Sutton, a naturalist and dragonfly expert in Cape May County.

Some species of the dragonfly — or its cousin, the damselfly — are migratory, while others are not. Some are heartier species, others more sensitive to change, so without knowing exactly which are being seen, it’s difficult to give a concrete answer, naturalists say.

This is the time of year for many species of dragonfly to hatch and take flight. The mild winter that the state experienced could translate into an abundance of the insects that survived the winter, according to Dorothy Smullen, a naturalist at the NJ Audubon Society.

But it could also be a migration of certain species of dragonfly into New Jersey, since much of the country is in drought, said Pete Bacinski, director of the "All Things Birds'' program at the NJ Audubon Society.

New Jersey is home to some 180 species of dragonfly, according to Wild New Jersey, a nature website. The airborne carnivores eat mainly other insects and can devour its own weight in about a half hour.

The state Department of Environmental Protection in February added 26 species of dragonfly to its "Species of Special Concern,'' list. The designation identifies species that warrant special attention because they're inherently vulnerable to environmental deterioration or habitat modification, according to the DEP.

There are 54 species of dragonflies in Monmouth County, according to the New Jersey Odonata Survey, a database that tracks the species of dragonflies in the state. Some of those are migratory species, Sutton said.

Of those, dragonfly watchers have noticed that vast numbers of a certain species of dragonfly, occasionally in the thousands, will move ahead of a storm, such as the one experienced in the Shore area Wednesday.

In Cape May on Tuesday, Sutton heard a report of upwards of 90 dragonflies a minute flying ahead of the storm.

“The reports you’re hearing are legitimate,’’ Sutton said. “It’s probably the migration of certain species that people are witnessing.’’

Black saddlebags, a species of dragonfly so named because of the black markings on their wings, are a migratory species found in Monmouth County. So too is the Common Green Darner. Both are known to move in en masse and in large numbers, Sutton said.

In Ocean County and farther south, the Common Green Darner is another migratory species frequently seen in groups, Sutton said.

Where dragonflies go when they migrate, however, is anyone’s guess at this point. The science is too new to gauge, Sutton said.

“No one knows truly where they’re going,’’ Sutton said. “We’re still working on a way to track them.’’           

Have you seen an abundance of dragonflies this season? Tell us in the comments.

suz July 22, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Wow...interesting.
. July 23, 2012 at 12:05 AM
They are all over my yard and it is very annoying.
patricia small July 23, 2012 at 11:13 AM
They eat mosquitoes
Martin July 23, 2012 at 11:38 AM
When I was a kid, I shied away from them because of their name and size. Now, when I'm playing softball and out in the field, I'm glad to see dozens of them around -- because they're eating mosquitoes. Let's hope they come back in droves every summer!

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