Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly
BY SCOTT COVINGTON, REGIONAL OFFICE
When you think of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), what comes to mind? Is it endangered species or your favorite refuge? You’re a birder, so it must be migratory birds. How about all of the above – and more?
There are many programs in the Service, including Ecological Services, which is typically associated with endangered species work, the National Wildlife Refuge System (Refuges), Migratory Birds, Fisheries and more. But with the “stove pipe” system, it’s easy for us to become entrenched in our own program and not look beyond our own four walls.
Not so with Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH), where hatchery staff recently took the reins of a project to work with the Hine’s emerald dragonfly, a native of upper Midwestern bogs and endangered because of fragmented and diminishing habitat. Genoa NFH obtained a Cooperative Recovery Initiative (CRI) grant from the Service’s Refuge program. The CRI grant facilitates the restoration and recovery of threatened or endangered species by combining the resources of multiple programs across the Service as well as partnerships outside the Service to implement large-scale conservation efforts. Working with the Midwest Region’s Ecological Services office and the University of South Dakota (USD), an aggressive multi-program effort to save this dragonfly began last year.
naiads (larval aquatic stage) that rest in a
refrigeration box on the hatchery grounds
until it warms up next spring. Credit : Scott
Erin Johnson, a biologist stationed at Genoa NFH, was recently tasked with raising the dragonflies to assist in expanding their population. Erin seems quiet, but becomes animated when she speaks of the project, “I’m very excited to be involved in working to restore populations of these endangered species.” Erin is no stranger to difficult projects. She explains, “This project is a good fit for me. For my Master’s thesis, I studied the effects of arsenic contaminated sediment on aquatic benthic macroinvertebrates.” In English, that means critters that live on the bottom of streams or ponds.
Dragonflies have a three-part life cycle, which begins in the water. Typically, a female lays eggs either on an aquatic plant or eggs are dropped into the water. From an egg, the dragonfly grows into its aquatic form or naiad, which looks nothing like the adult. Dragonflies may live four to five years as a naiad until they mature into adult dragonflies. Then, within a few months, they mate and die.
This lifecycle means raising dragonflies can be a challenge. Erin explains, “During the early stages it is vital that we ensure the larvae have the best environment possible such as adequate food, oxygen levels and protection from predators. We must also maintain individual ‘hotels’ for each dragonfly as they are cannibalistic, and if raised in confined quarters, will eat each other.” USD staff developed the initial methods to raise Hine’s. Erin and the rest of the Genoa NFH team will continue to work with USD staff on how to scale up the operation so more dragonflies can be raised simultaneously.
cylinders in foreground). Credit: Angela Baran, USFWS
Using the USD method, Genoa NFH staff constructed naiad “hotels”, basically cylinders made of PVC and mesh screen. These allowed water and food to flow in and out of the “hotel”, while keeping the dragonflies protected – somewhat. Angela Baran, Assistant Project Leader at Genoa NFH, explains “Sometimes if the hotels aren’t checked often enough, a fast growing species of dragonfly can enter the hotel, grow bigger than the Hine’s and eat them. When we check the hotel, the Hine’s is gone and we’re left with a more common species.”
What’s next for the project? Erin sums it up, “During the winter we will be monitoring the larvae. This includes bi-weekly checks where their water will be changed. During this time, we will also construct additional dragonfly ‘hotels’ and hopefully move them back out to our ponds through the summer.”
This project definitely meets the intent of the CRI grant process – with multiple programs working with the USD to save this species. Eventually, the dragonflies from Genoa NFH will supplement populations around the region. Project Leader Doug Aloisi is proud of the progress that the project team has made in such a short time. “Even though we have spent only one short season with the dragonfly on station, we have been able to answer many questions about water quality, food availability, site-specific growth and suitable rearing units for the dragonfly. We are very excited to see what next year brings as well, and to learn even more on how to recover this unique species.” Genoa NFH is practicing the “one Service” mantra that we try to achieve.