The Amazing Dragonfly
Dragonflies are among the largest and oldest insects to
inhabit the earth, having changed very little in the last
300 million years. Today, over 5,000 species have been identified;
450 are in North America. They range in wingspan from less
than an inch in Malaysia to over 7 inches in South America.
The fossil record includes a dragonfly with a wingspan nearly
30 inches long.
Dragonflies have four wings that can move independently.
Dragonflies hover, fly backward and roll with ease. Each
wing has a high strength-to-weight ratio and can beat 35
times a second, allowing for in-flight feeding. From a still,
mid-air position, dragonflies can accelerate to over 60 miles
an hour in less than a second. The US military has spent
millions to better understand their unusual design.
Their namesake arises from the toothed jaw and hinged lip
that they use to consume other airborne insects. Despite
appearances, dragonflies are harmless to humans. In fact,
they help to control other insect pests in addition to having
an amazing diversity of color.
As nymphs, they do not chase prey but hide under a portion
of their own lip. With only their eyes revealed, they wait
up to several weeks to trap small aquatic neighbors. Gills
in their hindquarters breathe and can propel them should
a predator approach. For a period of up to five years, they
shed and grow new skin. Then, in one day, a nymph will leave
the water domain; and from its flesh arise wings that fill
with blood. The sun dries and hardens the wings and external
skeleton. In this transformed state, they may live only a
The Beautiful Hine's Emerald Dragonfly
The Hine's emerald dragonfly
(Somatochlora hineana) exhibits a unique mix of natural
beauty and engineering.
slender, metallic bodies with green, brown or black coloring.
Yellow lateral strips mark their thorax and fade into white
as they age. A rich emerald green color covers their enormous
eyes that possess almost 360-degree peripheral vision. Similar
to all dragonflies, a great deal of their brain is dedicated
to vision. The Hine’s emerald’s wings span about
2 and half inches.
Only a few sites on
earth provide habitat for these rare creatures – scattered
places in Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Missouri. Door
Wisconsin is their breeding
stronghold. It is suspected that the dragonfly has already
been lost in Ohio, Indiana and Alabama.
Center leads effort for critical habitat designation
After years of delay, the US Fish and Wildlife
Service listed the Hine's emerald dragonfly as an endangered
January 1995, making it the only dragonfly on the ESA register.
At that time, however, the agency choose not to protect the
dragonfly’s critical habitat, claiming that it lacked
the scientific knowledge of the species to make this designation.
Since then, the agency has published over half a dozen documents
emphasizing habitat destruction from development and urban
sprawl as a primary threat. The agency voiced its intention
to make this designation in different versions of its "Semiannual
Regulatory Agenda" and "Recovery Plan" – where
it even specifies known habitats where the Hine’s emerald
has a stronghold. The FWS repeatedly indicated habitat loss
as the primary threat to the dragonfly.
These habitats play a critical role in a species capability
not only to stabilize but also to return to a normal population
size. Without a habitat where this dragonfly can experience
successive years of growth, it will not recover. Yet, the
FWS has never provided any specific protection for these
areas despite acknowledging habitat destruction as the
primary threat, as early as 1993. Failure to provide this
designation is a clear example of agency inaction, but
is no surprise. Over 80 species listed as threatened or
endangered live in the Great Lakes region, but FWS has
only designated critical habitat for 4, and 2 of those
were as a result of court orders.
More recently, in an unexplainable move, in 2001, the Bush
administration published a notice of its decision to ‘withdraw’ the
critical habitat designation, without any explanation,
even though the FWS never proposed the designation in the
first place. Given the FWS inaction, on October 29 2003,
the Center for Biological Diversity, Northwoods
Wilderness Recovery, Missouri
Coalition for the Environment, Michigan
Nature Association, Door
County Environmental Council and
Habitat Education Center filed a 60-day notice, demanding
the agency finally take action to designate the critical
habitat essential to the dragonfly's recovery.