Dragonflies and damselflies are members of an ancient order of insects (Odonata – meaning “toothed ones”) that has been on this planet for 300 million years. For a small northern state, New Hampshire hosts a high diversity of species, with 166 currently recorded. These insects occur in freshwater habitats statewide, from our largest rivers to ponds above treeline in the White Mountains, and the myriad bogs and beaver ponds in between. They spend most of their lives as aquatic nymphs, and in many cases this life stage can be an indicator of high water quality – especially in streams. Dragonflies and damselflies are often colorful and conspicuous, and as a result are also increasingly popular with amateur naturalists.
New Hampshire Audubon is recognized as a state and regional leader in the dragonfly field, and has completed a number of significant projects. We led off with the first ever “NH Dragonfly Survey,” a five year community science effort to map the distributions of all species across the state. Staff and volunteers ultimately amassed over 18,000 records of 157 species. These data constitute a baseline against which future changes can be measured, and have already been used to inform external efforts such as the New Hampshire Wildlife Action Plan and revision of the state list of threatened and endangered species.
Following on the heels of the NH Dragonfly Survey, NH Audubon partnered with other agencies and organizations in the Northeast to complete a conservation assessment for the region. Combining data from 13 states and the District of Columbia, we evaluated changes to species status, determined threats to these species, and ultimately produced a list of priority species for future conservation action. This list is already in use by state and regional conservation practitioners. Among those priority species are four damselflies found only in the Northeast, and this same regional partnership next undertook a comprehensive survey of these species from New Jersey to Maine. In addition to updating distribution records, we collected habitat data and drafted a conservation plan that can be used to guide future efforts to preserve habitat or mitigate threats.
New dragonfly projects are always on the horizon, including another regional one focused on another species of concern: the Ringed Boghaunter. There is also interest in the effects of climate change on species living in high-elevation lakes, and sometime the 2030s, we’ll need to redo the NH Dragonfly Survey to determine how species’ distributions have changed since 2011.
Project Leader: Pamela Hunt
Boghaunters Revisited: Updating Our Data on a Threatened Dragonfly (2021)
A Conservation Plan for the Endemic Damselflies of the Northeast (2020)
Conservation Planning for Endemic Damselflies of the Northeast (2020)
Prioritizing Odonata for conservation action in the northeastern USA (2015)
The New Hampshire Dragonfly Survey: A Final Report (2012)
Photos, from the top: The Scarlet Bluet is a striking damselfly found only from southern New Jersey to southeastern New Brunswick, by Pam Hunt; New England Bluet, another damselfly endemic to the northeastern United States, by Pam Hunt.