Studying Dragonfly Swarms with Citizen Science

By July 11th, 2011 at 10:46 am | Comments (132)

In July of 2009, a friend and I arrived at a lake to collect water samples for work. We had worked at the lake many times, but something was different that day: several hundred dragonflies were flying over the grass.

We often saw dragonflies, but there were 50 times the usual number and they weren’t in their usual places. We knew something exciting was happening, so we jotted down notes. I returned to the lake twice to record more observations of the swarm and simply appreciate the marvel of nature that I witnessed. Then they were gone.

That experience changed me. I am an aquatic entomologist with an interest in dragonfly behavior, but that swarm captured my attention like nothing else. I needed to know more about it! I looked into the scientific literature to find answers, but discovered that little is known about dragonfly swarms.

A dragonfly swarm over grass. (Courtesy photo)

A dragonfly swarm over grass. (Courtesy photo)

There is a big gaping hole in our knowledge of dragonfly behavior! I learned two important things:

1) There are two types of dragonfly swarms, static feeding swarms (dragonflies congregate in a small area, usually where there are lots of bugs to eat) and migratory swarms (massive numbers of dragonflies migrate to overwintering sites many miles away).

2) Dragonfly swarms are short-lived events. You have to be in the right place at the right time to see them.

So there I was, an entomologist obsessed with dragonfly swarming behavior with a tiny handful of previous studies and very little hope of ever seeing another swarm. I badly wanted to know more about this behavior, but how can anyone study something that they are lucky to see once? I might never see another swarm in my life, but I desperately wanted to study this behavior!

I turned to my blog to answer my questions. Lots of people sought information about dragonfly swarms online to explain what they were seeing in their yards. They often ended up at my blog because I provided information they wanted. Some readers rewarded me for making the information available by sharing their own swarm observations in the comments. One day it hit me: if I formally requested information from the thousands of visitors learning about swarms on my blog, I might collect enough data to complete a real scientific study. Thus The Dragonfly Swarm Project was born!

A map of all of the dragonfly swarm sightings submitted by citizen scientists in 2010. (Courtesy image)

A map of all of the dragonfly swarm sightings submitted by citizen scientists in 2010. (Courtesy image)

After just one year, I’ve learned more about dragonfly swarming than I ever dreamed – and the project is still going strong! I’ll publish the results in a scientific journal at the end of the project to share what I’ve learned with other scientists, but I also share everything online in real time so participants can see how their data contributes to my work. I try to make it as easy and rewarding as possible for people to get involved.

But most importantly, by collaborating with over 650 participants so far, I am tackling a scientific problem that is impossible to research alone – all thanks to the power of citizen science!

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This is a guest post by Christine Goforth is aomology Ph.D. student at the University of Arizona. Her research focuses on the aquatic insects of the Sonoran Desert, especially the parental care behaviors of the giant water bugs and using aquatic insects to indicate and manage water quality issues in Arizona.

  • Mcahammer

    I experienced a swarm tonight in my backyard with hundreds of large dark dragonflies.  Flying about 1 foot off the ground very quickly.  After 10 minutes, several started divebombing my head.  Otherwise, I couldn’t tell what was going on.  None were landing and the largest body of water (a creek bed) is about 3/4 mile away.  It’s also 100 plus degrees here in Kansas, north of Wichita about 30 miles..  What a great night!!!

  • DragonflyWoman

    How fun! It sounds like you witnessed a static feeding swarm. The dragonflies in the group were probably attracted to a swarm of gnats, mosquitoes, or other small insects in the area where they were flying. Then they swooped around, feasting on the small insects. It’s interesting that they were dive bombing you! I haven’t heard that from anyone else. My best guess would be that you were disturbing the small insects the dragonflies were eating and that changed their flight pattern so that they were flying around your head. Exciting!

  • me_lisa_m

    I have witnessed 2 of these swarms.  Since I recently moved to the area, I was awed by the first swarm and thought it was one of those things that occured here.  I mentioned it to my neighbor when I witnessed the 2nd swarm and he indicated he had never seen them before.  I became intrigued, googled and stumbled upon your website.  Very cool indeed.  Melissa ~ Cape Coral, FL

  • http://scistarter.com/ SciStarter

    Melissa, that’s great! Did you get any pictures or video of the dragonfly swarms by any chance? :)

  • DragonflyWoman

    I am so happy that you enjoyed the swarms you saw!  A lot of people are (understandably considering the size of the insects involved and the infrequency of the behavior) very scared of dragonfly swarms.  It’s always nice to hear from people who share my opinion that they’re something amazing to see.

    Isn’t it also amazing how localized these swarms can be?  I’ve gotten hundreds of reports stating that there was a swarm in the reporter’s yard, but not in any of their neighbors’ yards.  The only swarm I’ve personally seen was in a park, but I would LOVE to have hundreds of dragonflies flying around my yard!.  You’re lucky because you live in a place that gets a lot of swarms, so you might see several of them if you keep an eye out for them.  Fun!

  • Nikki

    I experienced a swarm tonight in my neighborhood.  The was many flying low in the driveway but they were all over the neighborhood flying very high. We have in our neighborhoodbacky.  They were flying very low in the driveway and I was afraid to get out of the car because it llooked as if they were divebombing.  Only lasted a while and then they were gone.  The birds were very active.  It’s only about 75 egrees in Weymouth north of Boston.  This was very amazing!!

  • Kevmed4

    just saw a huge swarm in my yard at dusk, and our yard only.  Very cool, but scary when you don’t know why.  Its been very dry and hot here and i watered yesterday alot.

  • Kevmed4

    we’ve lived here 26 years and have never seen this before, here or anywhere else.  does this signal a yard problem possibly?

  • DragonflyWoman

    Exciting! If it ever happens again, you are completely safe walking out amongst the dragonflies. They can’t sting, they won’t bite, and it would be very unusual for one to even touch you. You could have gotten out of your car safely! I can definitely understand why people might be scared of the swarms though. The dragonflies are big and there are a LOT of them in most swarms, so a little scary if you don’t know what’s going on.

  • DragonflyWoman

    The dragonflies in your yard merely indicated that you had other little flying insects (mosquitoes, gnats, ants, etc) flying around your yard right when the dragonflies appeared. There have been hundreds of swarms across the country over the last few days, so it would seem that there are a lot of little flying bugs out right now. The best part: the dragonflies will eat all those annoying little bugs you don’t want in your yard. Natural pest control!

  • The_reynolds5

    I am experiencing a swarm as we speak here in Croton-on-Hudson, NY.  We are not on the water, at least a mile away but they are covering a full block in a residential neighborhood.  It has been very rainy here the last few days but right now it is dry.

  • Joe

    I just viewed a swarm in my back yard about an hour ago. I live very close to the Ohio River and see dragonflies all the time but not like this. There were hundreds of them from the ground flying up to about 20-40ft in the air. The ones flying right above the ground seemed to be stirring up small flying insects that were lying in the grass. I believe that most of the insects were mosquitoes. The dragonflies were so thick that they were smacking into each other as they flew. I was mowing at the time it started and had to quit, there were just so many. Very awesome to see.

  • ClanFlanagan

    Reporting from Boalsburg, PA (near Penn State University– State College PA)– my kids and I witnessed a dragonfly swarm this evening in our backyard area (really an open field).  What an amazing sight to see.  All of the dragonflies looked like little helicopters– big chunky ones, jetting and “dive-bombing”- most likely for bugs.  I almost felt like I was on a movie set– truly wondrous creatures.  We’ve had days and days of rain– and areas west and east of us have been flooding significantly- so I wonder if that has anything to do with their presence?  I imagine that there are plenty of mosquitoes and other bugs available after all of that rain.  Thank you for allowing us to be part of your research.  Your project is interesting!  Hooray for dragonflies– we are big fans!

  • ebbnflo991

    I was blessed with my second viewing of a swarm tonight.  The first time was last summer in Remington, VA at my father’s house which is near a river. It lasted about 30 min and we assumed it was some sort of mating ritual because they were circling and going higher and higher. Now it seems much more likely they were chasing the fleeting bugs. Tonight I arrive home just to catch the end of another swarm. When you see one a sense of wonder fills your head and you have to watch it until they leave, no matter what chore you were supposed to be doing (unloading the groceries in my case)..it’s captivating.  I am in Rixeyville, VA around dusk and the rain has finally stopped after a week and I am guessing a day full of sunshine has really invited the small bugs out, thus my lucky night!

  • http://thedragonflywoman.com/ DragonflyWoman

    Nice!  It’s amazing to me how spread out the swarms can be!  Love it.

  • http://thedragonflywoman.com/ DragonflyWoman

    Sounds like a good sized swarm!  They probably loved it when you started mowing too.  It kicks up all sorts of little insects the dragonflies like to eat, which will only make them swarm in a tighter area.  Glad you enjoyed your swarm though!  I personally think it’s the sort of thing to put off mowing for.  :)

  • http://thedragonflywoman.com/ DragonflyWoman

    Yes, hooray for dragonflies!  I’m interested to hear that there has been flooding in your area.  I’ve gotten MANY reports from PA since Irene hit the coast and I hear that the hurricane cause flooding because the ground was already saturated when she hit.  I think there is a link between flooding (which causes dragonfly prey species populations to go up as you suggested) and dragonfly swarming behavior.  The floods coupled with the fact that it’s just about the time of year for the dragonflies to start migrating south…  Well, expect to see a lot of dragonflies in your area over the next few weeks!

  • http://thedragonflywoman.com/ DragonflyWoman

    I am excited to hear that it’s been raining in Virginia!  I’ve been wondering what’s been going on that’s caused the spike in reporting from your state over the last few days.  If you got a lot of little bugs coming out after rains, then that would explain it!  Thanks!

    I love that you said that you feel you have to watch the swarms until they leave, regardless of what needs to be done.  I felt the same way when I saw my first swarm!  I was at the lake that they were swarming next to for work though, so I had to tear myself away and get the water sampling done.  But, my swarm stuck around for several days, so I was able to go back and just sit among the dragonflies, watching or photographing them, a couple more times.  It was glorious!  These things are so ephemeral and you’re so lucky to see one that I feel exactly the same way – that you just have to stop and watch because who knows when you’ll see them again?

  • Lazylakers

    I have just witnessed my first swarm and wow it is amazing. I live in a well populated neighborhood in Independence, Missouri. There are probably a couple hundred dragonflies in my neighborhood and most are in my yard. It appears they are eating other insects and they’re flight ranges between 40 feet up and down to few inches off the ground. Most of them appear to be blue or green with a bit of yellow. I thought they only hang around water but I must wrong. The closest source of water is about 7 miles away.

  • http://thedragonflywoman.com/ DragonflyWoman

    Dragonflies are usually found near water because that’s where they mate.  The males set up territories and protect them from other males, then the females choose a territory, mate with the resident male, and lay their eggs in their mate’s area (assuming this isn’t interrupted).  However, dragonflies can fly quite far and they are often found miles from water sources as they move around and look for food.  If there’s a lot of food available for them to eat in an area far from water, many of them will end up in that spot.  This is how a lot of these swarms form – hungry dragonflies come across their equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet in someone’s yard or neighborhood or city and get to work.  They eat the bugs you don’t want in your yard and then move on.  The fact that the swarms look darned cool in the process is a great bonus though!

  • Bart

    There was a swarm hanging/flying around the USS Alabama park in Mobile, Alabama on August 7. They were hanging out in the parking lot. The swarming was unusual to me, as I’ve never seen more than 3-4 at a time, even near swamps. The swarm stayed together for quite awhile, as it was there when I arrived a 8 a.m. and was still there, just over a different part of the lot at around 10:30 when I left. The individual dragonflies seemed to fly back and forth within a certain area several meters in diameter, sort of like a late-night feeding of bats. 

    Hope this is useful.

    Bart
    Cheer Operations Ninja
    ScienceCheerleader.com

  • http://scistarter.com/ SciStarter

    :) :)

  • DragonflyWoman

    Nice!  Thanks for sharing!  I’ll add your report to my database.

  • http://rmaidl.wordpress.com/ Rebecca

    In the evening about 7pm on September 1, 2011 there was a dragonfly swarm on my parents’ property (in Shawnee, WY). It was the most dragonflies we’d seen in a group before. We always get dragonflies in the late summer, they like to rest in the trees around the property (there’s a lake about 12 miles away, but other than that no real water source) and there’s plenty of other insects they can eat, but the dragonflies were usually medium sized to small. This swarm though had a lot of very large dragonflies and they were all flying around in an patch of trees next to our road by the house. They flew around about eye-level and higher in the air. It didn’t last very long from the time we noticed it, by the time I went to get my camera and come back out they were mostly gone. We still had a few hanging out, but not in an active swarm anymore, so I think the majority moved on to another area. One dragonfly lingered after the sun set and landed on me. It was very large (for that area/what we normally see) and had a green thorax with a maroon-purple abdomen. This was a very neat experience! I’ve always loved dragon flies. Our normal summer dragonflies are usually solid colors (sky-blue, green, golden yellow, and red). These dragonflies were definitely different than our normal summertime visitors, being so large and multiple colored, and dark (from a distance they looked black, until like the one that landed on me you could see it was green and dark maroon-purple). So cool!

  • DragonflyWoman

    Nice!  I rarely get reports from WY, so I am excited to see yours!  And it’s interesting that you had different dragonflies in you swarm than your usual species.  Cool!

  • JC

    We had a swarm of dragon flies here this evening in upstate SC hundreds of them all over the place flying well above the trees.  I have never seen this activity before…it took my breath away…quite a wonderous sight to see. 

  • DragonflyWoman

    It sounds like the dragonflies are starting to head south for the winter as I’ve been getting a lot of reports from states a lot further south than I have been most of the summer.  Exciting!

  • Wendy Purcell

    I have seen several swarms this year. The first was after my daughters birthday party, while standing outside saying goodbye to some guest. It had been raining, and was still sprinkling and we noticed several hundred dragon flies swarming  all over the yard, most of them close to the grass. I was an awesome sight. Since then I have seen several smaller swarms, and have just noticed more dragon flies than ever before this year. I live in Savannah Georgia.

  • DragonflyWoman

    A lot of the feeding swarms occur just before or after it rains.  It appears that storms cause surges of the little insects the dragonflies like to eat, either stirring them up so that they fly after the rain has stopped or depositing them in an area just before it rains (a lot of little insects are carried along on the wind that accompanies storms).  When you get those big surges in prey species, you often get surges in dragonflies as well as they take advantage of the bounty of food.  It’s interesting that you’re noticing more dragonfly activity in your area this summer though.  It’s certainly been the case in other parts of the country, but I haven’t heard anything like that from anyone in the south.  Thanks for sharing!

  • bobbycjr

    Witnessed this for the first time ever this week, Tuesday, 09/27/2011 in Orangeburg, S.C. My next door neighbor called me in a panic, saying there was something big flying around in her yard, and she didn’t think they were bats. She said her dog (a Yorkie) was afraid to go out in the yard because of them. I walked over to her house, and there were hundreds of them, flying around everywhere. I was amazed, because I like to observe nature. My neighbor asked me for an explanation, but I had none. There was a report on Facebook tonight, 09/30/2011 of “millions” of dragonflies flying around in one of my friends’ yards in Eutawville, about 40 miles from here. Apparently, those who witness such an event are just as amazed as I was.

  • DragonflyWoman

    The dragonflies you were seeing were probable resting on their migration south.  There were several million dragonflies moving south through SC and NC right when you saw the swarm so it’s almost certain they were there feeding and resting before moving on.  There’s a big correlation between the areas where the feeding swarms occur during the migration and the migration route, and there is scientific evidence that migrating dragonflies typically fly south only every three days. They need somewhere to stop en route, so apparently your neighbor’s yard was as good a place as any to do so.  Fun!

  • Kwwolf

    I live in Lockport, IL, and witnessed a migrating swarm in mid-september.  They were heading west and as I traveled west from my mom’s house to head home we saw dragonflies for almost two miles.  She lives in a country type setting, forest preserve land surrounded by cornfields and soybeans.  I have seen feeding swarms a few times but this was crazy to see so many for such a distance.  

  • DragonflyWoman

    Nice!  That might have been the beginning of the migration in your part of the country.  Not sure why they would have been moving west, but you see all sorts of strange behavior during the migration too.

  • Jogeorge8

    There is a dragonfly swarm today in my back yard.  I live in New Port Richey, Florida and have a canal home on the Gulf of Mexico.  I occassionally see dragonflies; however, not like today.  They seem to be in my yard, but I cannot be sure of that.  I don’t know why it is happening today. 

  • Darlene

    Is there a typical swarm season? Should we still be on the lookout for dragonfly swarms?

  • DragonflyWoman

    In the US, the season appears to be approximately the end of May through late October or so, give or take a week or two.  You probably won’t see anything out for a while.  Of course, if you did happen to see a swarm now…  That would be incredibly exciting!

  • Beachbowie

    I live in New York & the strangest dragonflly occurence I have seen happened 2days ago in Brooklyn. I was at MCU Park which is a small stadium just off the boardwalk in Coney Island. During the game-between 7pm & sunset a huge swarm of dragonflies flew from the beach, over the boardwalk & over the park-lots got stuck in the net behind home plate for a few minutes before they figured out how to pass thru. There had to be thousands-if not more! The whole park was full as they passed thru going from south headed north. Then just like that they were gone. Any ideas why?

  • DragonflyWoman

    How fun! I would have really enjoyed seeing that. As for why, I think the hot weather has been causing a lot of movements recently. There was a lot of activity in North Carolina last week along the coast and we’ve been having record high temps, so it’s possible that your dragonflies were ones moving north to escape the heat in the south. There have been a lot more migratory swarms than usual this year, so clearly something different is happening and I think the warm winter and hot summer are likely to blame, at least partly.

  • Beachbowie

    Is there any particular reason they seemed to come from the beach? What do they eat? Also I didn’t see anything on your site as to why so many dragonflies-I mean thousands if not more! I wish I had my cellphone out to record.

  • DragonflyWoman

    My response seems to have disappeared, so I’m going to type it out again.  You’ve got multiple questions here, so I’m going to address each of them separately.

    Dragonflies eat mostly other flying insects, including some of the things we consider pests like mosquitoes and blackflies and sometimes even other dragonflies.  They’re predators and they often form swarms in response to an abundance of food.  However, you saw a migratory swarm, not a feeding swarm, so the dragonflies weren’t there to eat and were merely passing through.

    As for why they came from the beach, dragonflies use landmarks when they migrate to keep them on track.  These landmarks include mountain ranges and rivers, but coastlines are especially important.  If your dragonflies were moving out of an area (possibly further south where the conditions were extremely hot for several days) and using the coastline to navigate, then they would have been coming from the beach.  Apparently your area was an acceptable place for them as they started heading inland at that point.  And, I’ve gotten several reports from New York over the last week which suggests that they’ve taken up residence in your area, at least for now.

    Migratory swarms often include thousands of individuals – sometimes a whole lot more than that!  Based on the data I’ve collected through this project it appears that if an area is unsuitable for dragonflies (especially due to low prey density or too many dragonflies in the area) , they’ll tend to start moving en masse from the poor area to a better area.  Depending on how many individuals were in the poor area, those migrations can be quite large.  Dragonflies also tend to get pushed along in front of storms, so people often report huge migratory swarms just before a storm hits their area.  In the fall when the migratory species start moving south for the winter, you’ll get billions passing through an area over several days to a few weeks.  The size of the swarm seems to depend on a lot of factors, but based on your description I suspect that you saw a swarm of dragonflies moving from a poor area to a better one, and those swarms can be quite large.

  • Rick Whitten

    There is usually a dragonfly swarm on my acreage about two days a year. I’ve never recorded when it happens, but I will this year. I believe it is a feeding swarm because barn swallows join in. At first I thought the swallows were chasing the dragonflies, but instead they seem to both be hunting the same thing.

  • Twan374

    Today while mowing grass on Long Islands east end, I had noticed a few dragon flys. Having an inground pool I often see 1 or 2 flying around my property in the summer.  When I got to the other side of my house there were about 25 to 30 of them flying randomly around  about a 100 square foot area.  They were between 2 to 10 feet off the ground. I just noticed that there is also a swarm of gnats near by. I guess its lunch time for the dragon flys. After about 1/2 hour it looks like they are thinning out.

  • DragonflyWoman

    It’s not unusual to see swallows and other birds hunting alongside the dragonflies.  Many people have reported that to me.  I’ve yet to see it myself, but I hope I do someday!  It sounds marvelous.

  • DragonflyWoman

    Definitely lunch time for the dragonflies!  I’m sure they appreciated your mowing. It throws up a lot of little insects and dragonflies LOVE it!

  • Mikepatte

    Twice in the past week I have had what I call a dragon fly nado. They move around so fast, so it is hard to count. Looks like thousands all around this small tree I have between my garage, and my neighbors. Just because I am extremely curious and a little crazy, I stood right in the middle of the swarm. I could see and hear them running into each other as they just went in circles in a frenzy. never once did one hit me. I grabbed one and was breifly able to hold it. Looked to be about 4″ long. Some looked bigger, some were smaller, but it was awesome to watch them, then they just disipate like some flash mob. I don’t know if it had anything to do with the swallows that were flying above or not. I would like to learn more about this phenomenom.

  • DragonflyWoman

    Sounds like a pretty standard static feeding swarm!  The dragonflies are taking advantage of a localized boom in prey insects in your yard.  And your experience while standing in the middle of the swarm sounds about right.  That’s what I’ve personally experienced and lots of others have said almost exactly what you did when they’ve described their time standing in the middle of the swarms in their areas.  As far as the swallows are concerned, they are commonly reported flying above dragonfly swarms like you saw.  I have not personally witnessed this, but lots of people tell me that the swallows swoop in and out of the swarms, though they appear to go after the same insects the dragonflies are eating rather than eating the dragonflies.  Hope you enjoyed the swarm!  And if you’d like to learn more, I write about swarms weekly and have a lot of information available on my blog: http://thedragonflywoman/dsp/

  • Michael M

    We experienced our 2nd swarm here in Fountain Valley, southern California, around 4pm on Saturday after the building owner had mowed the lawn. They were about a foot off the ground and there seemed to be several hundred with more coming in. I asked the owner if he had added anything to the lawn and he said no. He did say that the last time he mowed the lawn he noticed a smaller swarm that hung around for a short time. This swarm lasted almost 2 hours. The owner is going to call me before he cuts the lawn next time so I can get some pictures, if the dragonflies show up. If we are lucky. I did add this event to my ‘bucket list’.

  • DragonflyWoman

    Lots of people report dragonfly swarms after mowing.  It seems that mowing kicks up a lot of little insects, the ones dragonflies like to eat, and it often results in quite a few dragonflies flying in the area.  If it’s happened before, it’s likely you’ll see a swarm the next time the owner mows.  I wish you luck!

  • Toddanicholas70

    I witnessed one yesterday at my home in Levant, Maine. I am guessing they were feeding as I noticed an ant hatch was occurring just below the swarm. Winged ants were emerging from the ground and taking off. I took video of the swarm, it was fascinating . I have never witnessed one before.

  • jeanre

    My daughter walked out of our house this afternoon and quickly walked right back in asking me to come out real quick I have to see this, there were about 25-30 dragonflys in our front, we looked around and there were not any in anyone elses yard. It was a great site to see, wish I knew more about why they were in our yard.

  • DragonflyWoman

    Excellent! Did you by any chance post your video to YouTube? I’ve got a nice playlist of all the dragonfly swarm videos I’ve been able to find available on YouTube and I’d love to add you video to the list!

  • DragonflyWoman

    Dragonfly swarms like the one you saw almost always form around clouds of little prey insects, so your dragonflies were likely feeding on some small insect that was emerging from your yard. The swarms can be incredibly localized, as you saw, because one person’s yard might have the right conditions for a swarm of gnats or mosquitoes or some other prey insect to form while the yard next door might not, thus one yard gets the dragonflies while the other does not.

    Don’t suppose you’d be willing to share your location (nearest city/town) so that I can add your report to my database?

  • Don

    I live in Keene NH. Last Thursday, August 9th, we had a swarm of dragonflies in our backyard. It was very difficult to count how many, but guess it was over a hundred. We saw them at about 7:00 PM. We also had another swarm this evening, about the same time. It is very exciting to see so many dragonflies! The feeding conditions must be right!

  • Kris

    It is August 15th in houston, TX about 9:00am and my son and I looked out into our backyard and there was a swarm of dragonflies. So we googled it and came upon your blog. thanks for the info

  • DragonflyWoman

    Ooh, two swarms in a few days! How fabulous! I am glad that you enjoyed them – and thank you for sharing your observations!

  • Lisa Elliott

    Kelley, IA! Right now! 6:30PM cst not a drop of water for a few miles. So awesome.! Kids are living it!
    clrcelliott@hotmail.com

  • DragonflyWoman

    You’re welcome! I’m glad I could share something of interest with you.

  • DragonflyWoman

    Excellent! I love hearing about kids out playing in the dragonflies. I don’t have kids, but I would let them frolic in a dragonfly swarm if I did. So glad that you all enjoyed it!

  • JV

    Hey DFL
    2 swarms to report in southern California; one in Lakewood and one in Compton.
    Both were small (50-60 dragonflies) and in the morning. Ants and termites have been swarming due to the tripple digit heat. The swarm looked more like hunting than migrating.
    Thank you for answering our curiosity.
    Jamie
    8/21/2012

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000423045738 Jon Bennett

    SW michigan.
    dragonfly swarm eating white flys off from my squash plants
    hundreds if not thousands in a 20′ 30′ area.
    they sure seem to like these little white flies! snapping them right out of the air.
    i am almost want to start playing “flight of the valkeries” because it looks like a helecopter assualt in miniature.

  • Julia

    se michigan, swarm 50 feet high beneath high-flying swallows, all eating flying ants taking off after a rainstorm. Same thing happened almost exactly two years ago!

  • Smarterkitty

    Dusk at 8 pm Aug 28 Galveston Island Texas. Several swarms heading South, flying about 50 ft high. Dense swarms, thousands of dragon flies in each. Never saw anything like it. Amazing.

  • DragonflyWoman

    You’re welcome! So glad I could share something that you wanted to know.

  • DragonflyWoman

    I’m actually a little surprised that they’re going after something as small as a whitefly, so that’s interesting! I suppose if there are a lot of whiteflies and the dragonflies can dine until they’re full, it’s an easy way to catch prey.
    Love the Ride of the Valkyries bit. Made me laugh!

  • DragonflyWoman

    If you happen to see this response, I’m wondering: were the swallows eating the dragonflies, or were they eating the ants and ignoring the dragonflies? I find the relationship between swallows and dragonflies in these situations fascinating.

  • DragonflyWoman

    Wow! Sounds like a fantastic thing to see! I’m a little envious actually… :)

  • Ryan

    Aug 31 2012 7:05… Massive Dragonfly swarm just north and east of Sharon, WI 53585. Best guess from visual was that it covered 2-3 acres. Very low flying…. swoops to head level. Amazing experience for both kids and us.

  • terry

    Terry in Janesville, Wi. At 7:15 there were hundreds swarming in our neighborhood for around 10 minutes then the wind picked up and they just disappeared. Swooping and diving like they were on a mission.

  • Renee

    Renee in Monticello WI saw thousands tonight starting about 7:15 just south of Belleville WI. At first there were hundreds in the air but spread out. We were driving through them. Swallows were flying with them. When we got to Monticello about 7:30 they were everywhere. There were dense swarms of 60 to 100 in several yards on every street. We didn’t have a dense swarm at our house but they were still everywhere flying at every height. From close to the ground to at least 70 ft. Swallows were still flying with them. It was too hard to watch because you couldn’t focus on any of them. Absolutely Amazing though. Thank you for your website.

  • qlz

    September 2 8:00 pm, 4 miles sw of Toronto SD: large swarm (at least hundreds, maybe thousands) of dragonflies, about 5 ft to 50 ft above ground, over about 3 acres of grass, shrubs and trees. Generally moving north, gone within about an hour.

  • DragonflyWoman

    So glad you got to see it! I love to hear that parents are letting their kids enjoy these swarms too.

  • DragonflyWoman

    Isn’t it interesting how they just disappear like that? I find it fascinating! One minute they’re there, and the next minute they’re completely GONE.

  • DragonflyWoman

    Wow! Sounds like you got to see quite the event! There was a lot of activity in Wisconsin that night. Wish I could have been there to see it too!

  • DragonflyWoman

    There was a surge in activity in that part of South Dakota that night. It was strange – they were only there one night and then they moved on. I only got reports from South Dakota on a single night! Fascinating.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tied.pool.creations Angela Pierce

    I live on the southwest Washington coast. I took my dog down to the beach around 8 a.m. on Friday, September 7. There were thousands of dragonflies flying over the dune grass, all heading south. I laid down in the dune grass and watched them fly overhead for a bit. There were some down by the water, too, but most of them were over the grass. I brought my husband back with me about an hour and a half later. There were still many, but it was thicker earlier. They looked like a variety of blue darner, but I’m not sure, since I know nothing about dragonflies. I feel lucky to have seen it.

  • DragonflyWoman

    In your area, it was likely that you were seeing variegated meadowhawks! They migrate down the Washington and Oregon coast about this time each year. The dragonfly listservs for your part of the country have been all abuzz about the meadowhawk migration out there too, so I’m so happy you got to see it! How great that you laid down to watch them too. I would totally do that myself – I’m glad I’m not the only one who does things like that!

  • Jennifer Sosensky

    Vacationing on Holden Beach, North Carolina, we saw a swarm of dragonflies over the sand dunes, only in front of our house and the house next door, on Monday, September 10, at 7:30pm. Hundreds of dragonflies in front of the houses, flying back and forth and around again. This lasted for perhaps a half an hour and then they flew off.

  • DragonflyWoman

    I’m so excited to hear this! I have been waiting for the migration to pass through North Carolina so I can see it this year, and this gives me a good indication that it will happen in earnest soon. Thanks for sharing!

  • Stephanie

    I live in East Hampton, NY and on September 9, 2012 at around 6/630pm the silohuette of wings gleaming in the sun caught my eye by the dune grass. This was about 20 yards away from where I was sitting so I went over to investigate. It was a swarm of dragonflies! This lasted about 45 min and I just lay down and watched them zoom above me. Sometimes they would get really close to each other and their wings would touch. I watched them marveled by their quick, agile flying and brilliant colorful bodies (green + blue). It was funny too because it seemed like some were showing off by doing aerial tricks, acting like certain boys i know!

  • jacklin

    Thousands swarming off the gulf coast of Fl in Redington Beach. We were ran out of the pool there were sooo many. They were flying so high. Minutes later they were low and a few even dove in the pool. The kids were freaking their were soooo many. Its quite amazing. We are inside now looking off the balcony and their still everywhere just not as many all together. Craziness.

  • DragonflyWoman

    I think it’s great when people tell me that they laid down and watched their swarm. What a fabulous experience to have! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  • DragonflyWoman

    It sounds like you got to see a BIG swarm! Fun!

  • http://www.facebook.com/lisa.wrone Lisa Wrone

    Just today, I had a large swarm of dragonflies outside the house, over the patio. They were no where else – not in my neighbor’s area on either side, or back further in my yard, just in this small, 15×15 area. They stayed there for several hours, I took video of them – I had never seen anything like it before!

  • DragonflyWoman

    Isn’t it cool how the swarms can be that localized, that they’ll be in one yard and no others? I think it’s very interesting. Thank you for sharing!

  • grandmo

    Two nights ago, September 26, 2012 I noticed two static swarms in my backyard in Kyle, Texas (south of Austin). At the time my husband was in the front of the house and noticed many dragonflies flying towards our backyard. Unlike many of the other comments about being near water, there is no water in this area for 20 miles.The dragonflies just seemed as though they were dancing and playing about 10 -15 feet above the ground. I stood on the back patio in complete awe of what I was witnessing knowing it was probably a once in a lifetime amazing experience.

  • Carolyn

    We are renting a house on the beach in Gulf Shores, AL. The house has a screen porch but due to a recent storm several of the screens are torn or missing. This morning (Oct. 5, 2012) I awoke to find the porch full of dragonflies. Some were flying around, but most were perched on the backs and arms of the chairs. I soon realized that even more were perched on the chairs and railings of the open deck. There was easily a hundred or more. As the air warmed up they became more active and I couldn’t walk out on the deck without several lighting on me. By noon they had mostly gone and the numbers were back to normal. They were mostly small (2 to 2 1/2 inches long) with a pale blue or blue gray abdomen.

  • DragonflyWoman

    It really can be a once in a lifetime experience! I’m very happy to hear that you got to see it and I thank you for sharing your story.

  • DragonflyWoman

    How fun! It sounds like your rental might have been used as a roost for a lot of dragonflies overnight. I’ve heard similar stories from just a few people, and none along any of the migratory routes, so I’m very glad you shared your story. Based on the description of the dragonflies you provided, I would bet that you were seeing either eastern pondhawks or blue dashers. They’re both about the right size and definitely the dusky blue you described. Hope you enjoyed their visit!

  • AZcommenter

    A couple of years ago, I was in my house in Tucson, AZ. It was late spring, and had rained for a few minutes. As the rain stopped, I looked out my back window and there were hundreds of dragonflies flying about in my tiny back yard (I have a patio home with a very small grass yard). I looked over into my neighbor’s yard (she also has grass), but there were no dragonflies there, and there were none in the other neighbors’ yards either; they were only in mine. It was fascinating to see them. They had bluish-green, iridescent bodies and when the sunlight caught their wet wings they sparkled like Christmas lights. I just stood at the window for a few minutes and watched them in wonder; it felt like being in a dream. Then I left the room for a moment to get my camera. When I returned, all the dragonflies had disappeared . . . as mysteriously as they had appeared.

  • DragonflyWoman

    In Tucson? Excellent! I don’t get a lot of report of this behavior from Arizona, but considering I saw my first swarm in Tucson, I KNOW they happen there. I’m very excited to hear your story!

  • Dennis M

    We live on the Shores of Lake Michigan, with a small backyard woods that is home to an unfortunately large number of mosquitoes. We have spectacularly large swarms covering a large portion of our yard nearly every night throughout late July and all of August. So at our house it is not a short-lived event and it’s always the right time! It’s quite beautiful and very common. Thanks for the info

  • Joshua Krzanowski

    I live in south florida and work outside. i’m somewhat familiar with feeding swarms of dragonflies as i work in the horse industry which seems to attract a lot of potential food source for them, but this evening i saw a behavior that confounded me. during the early dusk a swarm of dragonflies; which must have numbered near a thousand, moved in what I can only describe as a stream over my property from northeast to southwest. the stream was dense and very few seemed to leave the group. the event must have lasted between 3 and 4 minutes as they passed over head and out of sight over a treeline. i am very curious if you might have any explination for this?

  • MindyMac

    I witnessed a dragonfly swarm yesterday in Baton Rouge, LA. We live near a small creek and it had just started to storm. I went outside to pick up some items that might blow away in the wind and there were hundreds of them flying around about 15 off of the ground. It was strange because it was raining, so I didn’t feel like they were eating. I didn’t get a good look at the type, either, but they looked small (so maybe juvies). They mainly hovered but many flew in

  • Nate

    Sitting in my office on the 6th floor of a building in Metairie, LA. Swarm seems mostly at my elevation, spanning over about 1/4 of a city block. Isn’t incredibly dense, but probably has around 100 dragonflies in the swarm. I was able to capture part of it on video.

  • Lindy

    My kids and I just witnessed our first dragonfly swarm, what a crazy sight. Some neighbors were out watching the scene as well. We live in Kingsville, Ontario, Canada right on Lake Erie. Weird hiw the dragonflies weren’t in our yard but as we walked down the street they covered 3 neighbors yards-:)

  • DragonflyWoman

    Fun! You’re lucky to have the opportunity to see so many swarms! I’m a little envious, I’ll admit.

  • DragonflyWoman

    You got to see a migratory swarm! You’re so lucky! The dragonflies were moving from one place to another and they sometimes do that in large groups – up to several million in some migratory swarms. Wow. I’m so envious that you got to see one of these. I am still hoping I’ll get to see one in person someday, and not just on YouTube…

  • DragonflyWoman

    Wow! They were flying in the rain? That’s super exciting! Dragonflies tend not to fly in rains, so I’m very thrilled to hear your story. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • DragonflyWoman

    Do you have your video online anywhere? If so, I would LOVE to see it! It’s interesting they were so high up in a static swarm like that. Very interesting!

  • DragonflyWoman

    Isn’t it fascinating how they can be that localized? I’ve always found that very interesting, that they will be in one yard, but not the next one over, etc. It’s strange, but super cool! Glad you had a chance to see a swarm!

  • Al D

    I’ve seen a feeding swarm every year for years. In SW Nebraska it is always late July-early August, and they seem to prefer hunting over buffaloe grass as opposed to blue grass. I drove through one on a nearby highway that went on for 7 miles at 65 mph!…pretty amazing.

  • DragonflyWoman

    Lucky! I know that some people get to see these from year to year, but you really are one of the lucky ones to have recurring conditions that allow that to happen. Have you gotten them yet this year though? I have been pondering the apparent late start to the season, so I am curious whether you have gotten them on time this year or not.

  • al d

    I saw them last night (Aug 5th) for the first time this year. King birds (flycatchers) and barn swallows were doing their best to catch them but weren’t having much luck. It dawned on me that I probably see them more over my buffaloe grass because I treat my blue grass with insecticides.

  • DragonflyWoman

    Nice! It’s always fun to see the birds flying around over the dragonflies. Did you see them actively hunting the dragonflies, or do you think they might have been trying to capture the same insects the dragonflies were hunting? I’m interested in hearing more about bird-dragonfly interactions in these swarms. They’re fascinating!

    Would you be willing to share your location with me (the nearest city)? I would love to add your sighting to my swarm map!

  • KCKE

    We just saw a swarm with perhaps a couple of hundred dragonflies, one of the kinds with blue on the face but black otherwise. We saw the same thing about a year ago! They zoom around just above ground and then seem to spiral up over our deck and above the third story of our house, almost like a great funnel, though it doesn’t cover a very big area. We live in a clearing with woods all around and have a lot of gardens and use no pesticides–and this was just after a heavy rain most of the day. I’m sure there are loads of mosquitoes–we are concerned about Eastern Equine Encephalitis this year–so happy to have the dragons. This is just east of Amherst, MA. Amazing, magical wonder.

  • DragonflyWoman

    Ooh, I haven’t heard about a swirling flight pattern like that before! Fun! I’ll add that to my list of possible flight patterns.

  • susan CB

    We are enjoying a wonderful dragonfly swarm today in Standish Maine near Sebago Lake. They started around noonish are are still in flight over 6 hrs later. I worked in the gardens, the dogs have been running around, we do not seem to disturb them. There are levels of flight patterns, some near the ground, others at 5-6′ high and others up as high as over the height of our 3 story colonial.THey visited last year as well but we do not remember the month.

  • Physicist

    We just saw several swarms of a few dozen dragonflies here in Vienna, Maine, not too far from where the last comment came from. They were at three or four places along the paved road. Temperature was about 85, The red sun was sinking to the horizon. The road is a paved road through the woods, then out across a swamp to a small bridge. There were quite a few dragonflies at the swamp, but not nearly as many dragonflies as in the wood. Mostly the dragonflies seemed to swarm just above the pavement, but I could see quite a few way up to the tops of the white pine.

    We’ve seen this behaviour before, but not often. We noticed that there were quite a few (maybe a dozen or so) dragonflies that were dead or dying on the pavement. At least one was still alive since it began to beat its wings when we tried to pick it up. We were wondering why the swarms and why the dying so we Googled a bit and ended up here.

  • DragonflyWoman

    Excellent! So glad you got to see a second swarm! I consider you lucky.

  • DragonflyWoman

    Interesting that you were finding dead dragonflies. Odd! Haven’t heard about that many times before, so I’m not sure what’s going on with that. Glad you have gotten to see more that swarm though! That’s great!

  • Sue

    In 2011 (maybe Aug/Sept???) late afternoon, we had a very large swarm (400 or more) that were zinging around our 1/2 acre yard. They seemed to center around
    a clear area of grass instead of flying under some of our large trees. They were quite large and greeny-gold?? (seemed almost as big as my hummingbird visitors) It was pretty cool; we walked among them and I don’t remember being hit once! They stayed for a few hours. They were not back again the next day..

    Yesterday 7-31-13 (late afternoon/evening) we had another swarm (a much smaller number; maybe 200 or so) This time they seemed to use a smaller portion of a clearing in front of two large pine trees and a ginkgo tree. Again, they zoomed around for a few hours again. This time, I had to Google; then came upon your site. I wish I would have taken pictures; next time I will and will report back.
    Sue ~ Riverside, Illinois 60546-2260

  • DragonflyWoman

    Thank you for sharing your story! How lucky to have gotten to see this twice! I suspect you’re located near the midwestern migratory path, especially given the timing of your two swarms. Hope you enjoyed them!

  • Echo Schmidt

    This last weekend in Rockaway Beach there were thousands of dragonflies all flying down the coastline. They seemed to be migrating southward and did not stop for anything and did not hit people walking around. iWeb saw this happening continuely throughout the weekend sat, sun and Monday. A man who has lived at rockaway Beach for 60 years said he had never seen anything like this occur in Rockaway beach, Oregon before.

  • José Solano

    We’ve been watching thousands of dragonflies passing through Newport,
    Oregon today. They are heading south. I’ve never seen this before. I
    wanted my kids to observe this as it’s rather rare. I just read that Echo had seen them in Rockaway Beach this past weekend so they are most like coming from north of Newport. I estimate 200 a minute passing just by our house and they are all over Newport so there might be millions! Astounding!

  • Laisne

    All morning there has been thousands of dragonflies heading south, along Long Beach Washington, on the Pacific Coast.

  • DragonflyWoman

    Excellent! You got to see the migration of the variegated meadowhawk down the coast! They actually do it nearly every year, though it was a slow year last year and this year’s seems to be really conspicuous. So glad you had a chance to see it!

  • DragonflyWoman

    Excellent! You got to see the migration of the variegated meadowhawks down the west coast! This happens nearly every year, but there seem to be more of them than usual, or they’re clumped together more than usual, this year so that LOTS of people have been seeing them. They typically come from southern Canada and areas like Idaho, Montana, and South Dakota, fly to the Washington coast, and then head south. While you might not notice them every year, the dragonfly listservs light up each fall when the migration occurs, so you’re seeing a yearly event. However, it might not be OBVIOUS that it’s happening most years, and this year is a little more special in that regard. So glad you had a chance to see them!

  • DragonflyWoman

    Excellent! I’ve gotten tons of reports of the migration in Oregon, but almost none in Washington. Glad to hear they’re starting in Washington as usual – and I’m happy you had a chance to see the migration!

  • Kim

    We had a swarm of fairly large dark dragonflies today in Long Beach, NY. They were flying high in the air over our neighborhood on the West End. I did not see them a mile down the road in the center of town. There were also swarms of very small yellow-jacket looking bugs in the gardens on our block today. I have never seen these little bugs before. The smaller dragonflies have been out more than ever all summer.

  • Kim

    After reading several posts, I realized it was relevant to say that these dragonflies were flying high (25-50 feet high) with dark small birds, and that they were concentrated in a half mile neighborhood strip between the Atlantic Ocean and the bay. (we are a barrier island) Long Beach, NY

  • DragonflyWoman

    I’m so happy you had a chance to see a swarm! They occur on Long Island every year, but it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time to see them. Glad to hear that you were! Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Sweeper

    North Texas today @ 3:30pm Large Dark Dragonflies swarm 3 feet off the ground. It is Overcast & Hot!! We live next too a pond. Thank you for studying…..very cool! too find info on why they swarm.

  • Willowtree

    Here in N.E. Ohio we are witnessing a dragonfly swarm in our back yard. It’s been going on for a few hours; they appear to be feeding.

  • Fey

    We live in Bath Township and hordes of dragonflies are going nuts in our backyard and our neighbors as we speak and they have been at it about 20 minutes…

  • Fey

    Bath township, Akron, Ohio

  • DFleming

    Swarming right now in Oak Lawn, Illinois

  • Jeanne Quinones

    I too have witnessed a swarm of dragonflies in my front yard, in central Pennsylvania, today September 12, 2013. The temperatures were beginning to cool from the 80º to the present temperature of 73º. The clouds are moving in again this evening and the dragonflies are still swarming. There is a creek that borders the side of our property. At first they were low to the ground then I noticed that they were also high in the sky.
    I went out, none attacked me as I walked down the driveway, and observed that they were in the neighbor’s yard and across the street in the front yard of the neighbor’s there as well. Neither the neighbors or my husband or myself have ever witnessed anything like it. We usually only find them when we are out on the lake, but never in swarms like this.
    Yesterday was a humid 85º or more with rain in certain areas with dangerous lightening(very little in our yard).

  • Pam S.

    Today is 9/12/13 and around 7:30pm my daughter yelled for me to go outside. I love dragonflies. When I got out there, there were about 50 to 60 dragonflies swarming around everywhere. I loved it. I know your going to think I am strange but 4 years ago my dad passed away and right after I kept seeing dragonflies close up. They would be everywhere. I thought maybe his way of saying hi. So to witness a dragonfly swarm was great. It did rain earlier today and it is humid outside.They were only in our yard the dragonflies had a feast tonight.

  • Sjkblaked

    Today in Cancun, Mexico. Winds were blowing strong off the ocean. A storm was rolling in from the West. Just minutes before the rains started thousands and thousands and thousands of dragonflies began to swarm in off of the beach toward our resort. I’ve never seen such a thing. The funny thing is I haven’t noticed one dragon fly all week, then thousands upon thousands. It appeared as though they were escaping the eminent rains, but who knows. Which is what drove me online and to your blog. Thoughts?

  • Terry

    I was in cancun today as well, when a rain storm blew through and massive amounts of dragonflies swarmed into the resort I was staying at and took cover under shelter. Most left after the rain stopped. Just wondering if this is a phenomenon or typical behavior when a strong rain is coming.

  • Allison

    Witnessed a dragonfly swarm in Cancun Mexico yesterday. Very rainy, warm day. Countless dragonflies of various sizes swarmed into the hotel, they appeared to be trapped within the open air (but roofed) hotel interior. They were everywhere and were dropping like flies.
    I was so perplexed by the seer number of dragonflies and I originally thought that this type of swarming behavior may be common here on rainy days (vacationing from Minnesota), yet after some asking around and researching-it appears to be uncommon.

  • Crystal Bethel

    I live in minnesota and they have been everywhere for 2 days so far. Forest Lake MN has been taken over. I have never seen anything like it.