Order of the Odonata

August 2nd through 4th, 16 participants, three Institute staff, and one instructor spent a wonderful weekend exploring the order of the Odonata. Due to cold and cloudy weather, we were unable to catch dragonflies and damselflies on Friday as planned. Instead, the class sat down for a presentation on these carnivorous insects given by instructor Dennis Paulson, who gave most of the Odonates their common names.

common spreadwing damselflyCommon Spreadwing Damselfly (Lestes disjunctus)
northern bluet damselflyNorthern Bluet Damselfly (Enallagma annexum)

Saturday we set out for a full day of swinging our nets in hopes of catching a dragonfly or two. We caravanned over to the Metthow valley where we explored several ponds, lakes, and bogs. At one point we were circled around a pond swinging our nets like we were in a stadium preforming the wave trying to catch a Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella). After a riveting day of catching dragonflies, we retired back to the Environmental Learning Center for dinner, followed by a presentation on Washington’s 81 species of Odonates. Our last day of class, Sunday, we set off for Washington Pass and Rainy Pass. The dragonflies and damselflies were a little slow to become active since they are ectotherms, but once the sun broke over the peaks, they started flying.

catching 12-spotted skimmerCircled around the pond attempting to catch the illusive Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella)
looking for dragonfliesJeff Anderson and Cait Mchugh watching a female dragonfly lay eggs along the lake
restingTim Hunter resting along the shore after an exhausting day of Odonata catching

Before becoming a grad student with North Cascades Institute, I remember getting the program catalog in the mail and seeing the Dragonfly and Damselfly class the institute holds annually. I wanted to take that class! This summer, I was lucky enough to get to participate as a staff member.

paddle tailed darnerThe “Paddle-tailed Darner Series” No. 1 – Christina Doherty holding a Paddle-tailed Darner (Aeshna palmata)
basking in sunThe “Paddle-tailed Darner Series” No. 2 – Paddle-tailed Darner basking in the sun in the Methow
jeff with paddle tailed darnerThe “Paddle-tailed Darner Series” No. 3 – Jeff Anderson with a Paddle-tailed Darner on his face

The Dragonfly and Damselfly class is a popular weekend program for adults and because of its popularity, also hard to reserve a spot. Dennis Paulson is an amazing instructor and I learned more than I ever dreamed I would about the anatomy and behaviors of the Odonates. Once we had great background knowledge of these creatures, catching them was all the more fascinating. It became a game to see how many different species we were able to catch.

dragonflies love jeffThe dragonflies liked Jeff and decided to hang out

I have now become an Odonata enthusiast, pointing out each one I see. There may be a purchase of a butterfly net in my near future to keep up my Odonata-catching desire.

Leading photo: An unidentified dragonfly on a plant. (Do you know what kind it is?) All photos by the author

Andrea Reiter is a graduate student at North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University studying environmental education. She grew up in Washington, getting the opportunity  to explore wilderness all throughout the state. In her free time Andrea enjoys being outdoors, near the saltwater, with her dog, and scuba diving.

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