The Hine's Emerald Dragonfly has found a new home in a forest preserve in Chicago. So what makes the species so important to be labeled America's only endangered dragonfly?
Scientists are telling Illinois citizens: don’t knock away that bug flying by at lightning speeds. Turns America’s only endangered dragonfly, the Hine’s emerald, has just been rereleased in the wild to try and propagate the species.
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For the past four or five years, researchers from the University of South Dakota incubated eggs to raise the population and pull the insect off the extinction list. The Associated Press reports that the eggs were collected in southwestern Wisconsin. But don’t get too excited. At the moment, only three of the 20 or so have been released in a forest preserve near Chicago.
But don’t let the numbers disappoint you, either. Daniel Soluk, professor and a lead scholar on the dragonfly, believes that since only 10 out of every 1,000 survive to adulthood, the number released is pretty high.
"We are trying to maximize their survivorship in captivity.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service describes adult appearance as “has bright emerald-green eyes and a metallic green body, with yellow stripes on its sides.” Roughly 2.5 inches long and a wingspan of 3.5 inches wide, Hine’s emerald dragonflies live in areas with high calcium carbonate, spring-fed marshes, and sedge meadows surrounded by dolomite bedrock.
And the only places to find the species are Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin. According to Soluk, the Hine's emerald dragonfly has been around for over 300 million years and are crucial to maintaining the region's ecosystem.
That makes the discovery late 1990’s discovery in Ohio all the more important. Thought to be extinct, Somatochlora hineana faces the biggest threats of habitat destruction through contaminated or changing ground water, pesticides, and a growing urban development.
Soluk said the Wisconsin habitat was chosen because the genetic diversity in the dragonflies resemble those around Chicago the most.
“You may have lots of numbers, but if they're genetically almost identical, that means there's not as much ability to resist something like a disease that comes along or that they just won't have as much flexibility in terms of quick responses to things like change in conditions.”
Citing that people living near the habitats should be considered “ambassadors,” the government’s hoping for more direct involvement.& But why save the dragonfly? Well, who doesn’t love something that kills mosquitoes, gnats, and other small flying insect pests in the summer?
Also, it turns out that the dragonflies need four years or so to mature, so this release should set up a possibility of a repeat every July and August, which is the usual lifespan of the adult. Remaining a nymph for four or five years, only to survive adulthood for six-to-eight weeks seems a bit uneven, doesn’t it?
Kristopher Lah works as an endangered coordinator with the USFWS. He points out that between 80 and 320 Hine's emerald larvae survive to be adults in Illinois. Adding genetic diversity means a stronger chance of a successful reintroduction. While not as exciting as say the gray wolf reintroduction, Hine’s emerald dragonflies serve as a part of a balanced ecosystem.
In Door County, Wisconsin, Nature Conservancy’s ecologist Mike Grimm has a few words on Earth upkeep. The area is ideal for dragonflies with rich wetlands and coastal springs, a promising breeding ground of future hope.
Due to vehicles slamming into the insect, research has proven the population has fallen around Door County, however. In 2014, the Green Bay Press Gazette asked Marne Kaeske, the local stewardship coordinator, what the alternatives were. The community set up nets to divert the flying adults away from traffic.
A smart move but only 35 percent of the dragonflies took the bait and an area with tens of thousands of an endangered species definitely needs some way to redirect into a safer zone than oncoming traffic. So higher nets were implemented, an attempt to save the only endangered dragonfly in the U.S.
At the time, Amber Furness, a Soluk lab coordinator, said that "this is probably pretty long-lived for a dragonfly and for an insect as well" and the long generation rate "taking all the way to potentially six years" slows the recovery rate.
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But Grimm believes human stewardship is vital and optimistic of the future. “A small butterfly doesn't really have any economic value and probably could go extinct and we'd never even know it. But I think there's an obligation to our future generations of people that we try to preserve the Earth in at least as good a condition as we found it."