Our Endangered Dragonfly

Many of the hunters — the term is used loosely because their method is catch and release — are volunteers for the Michigan Odonata Survey, a group of dragonfly enthusiasts whose mission is to get out in the field and identify every type of dragonfly living in the state.

Doug Munson is an enthusiast — of all natural things, it seems. With one eye scouting for the Hines and another scanning the terrain, he points to a clump of rigid, speckled stems, murmuring, “Horsetail. Settlers used it to scrub pots,” then, near a plug of lanky blades, “Sweet grass there. Smells delicious.” He continues his shorthand explanations to no one in particular as he meanders past pitcher plants, Indian paintbrushes, buffalo berry.

Munson’s field know-how has made him a vital part of the Michigan Odonata Survey, as well as the man to call for official dragonfly business in the Upper Peninsula. Lately, Munson’s taking part in a biological survey of the Enbridge gas line, slogging through swamps with net in hand, to help officials get a handle on whether or not the pipeline intersects the territories of Hines and other dragonflies.

He says that as a discipline, the study of dragonflies is tough. Unlike the study of birds or butterflies, it’s comparatively new. And when it comes to identification, odonatologists have to be part neurologist, part obstetrician/gynecologist: “We’ve got to get inside their heads,” he says. “And we deal a lot with the length of their genitals.”

Minutes later, a shout across the field reveals that the head of at least one Hines emerald has been successfully, albeit figuratively, penetrated. Tim Vogt, an odonatologist from the Missouri Department of Resources, holds the captured Hines between his thumb and forefinger, its four wings flattened so as not to impair them before its release. Its bulbous eyes are the brilliant green its name promises. Its body, maybe two-and-a-half inches long and shaped like a helicopter gunship — boasts a thick thorax that’s dark metallic green and marked with two buttery yellow lines.

Vogt, an imposing six-footer were it not for the boyishly wide-eyed, unblinking gaze behind his large glasses, cannot contain his glee at having found a Hines so early in the game. He declares this Hines a male and tilts the motionless star to its side so its gawkers can inspect the merchandise.

Like all dragonflies, Hines emeralds have differently styled appendages at the end of their abdomen that makes them distinct from other dragonflies in their family — in the Hines’s case, the family Corduliidae. The Hines female’s end has a V-shaped prong that resembles a set of dainty black wings, each side fairly flat and not splayed out especially wide. Male dragonflies have a hook at their end; the Hines bears four small points along its hook.

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