This week a small batch of endangered dragonflies are to be released after being raised for five years in captivity. They have been raised at the University of South Dakota and now the scientists there will get to see what will the work of half a decade amount to.
The species is known as Hine’s emerald dragonfly and it has been thought to be almost extinct in Illinois. However, a single healthy adult individual was found in the South of Wisconsin. Eggs were harvested from the dragonfly and carefully looked after by scientists. The emerged adults are to be released in the hopes of joining the few other emerald dragonflies left in the wild.
Professor Daniel Soluk leads this project. He explains that in nature dragonflies have only 1% chance of reaching maturity, while in the tightly controlled environment of the University’s laboratories that chance goes up to 50%. The scientists were trying to get as many to reach adulthood as possible because mature dragonflies have a much better survival rate on their own in nature.
Emerald dragonflies spend most of their lives as nymphs, waterborne immature versions of the insect. They live like this for about 5 years, when they leave the water and, after one last shedding of skin, they are ready to fly. Dragonflies will only live for about a month after leaving the nymph stage.
The current batch that will be released contains only 3 adult individuals, but 17 more are also going to be joining them soon. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that, at most, only 300 emerald dragonflies reach adulthood each year.
Dragonflies feed on many other insects, such as mosquitos, helping to keep their populations under control. Mike Grimm has served as the research team’s ecologist and he stresses the importance of preserving the species.
He believes that regardless of the emerald dragonfly’s usefulness in nature we have a duty to keep it from going extinct. He thinks that the intrinsic beauty of the creature makes it worth saving and that we owe it to our successors to do so.
Hopefully their effort will not be in vain and this project will have the desired effect of boosting the numbers of this species. The results will take time to become apparent but, before long, perhaps we will get to see more of these beautiful insects.
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