Odonate Monitoring Project
Odonates—more commonly known as dragonflies and damselflies—are insects of the order Odonata. Plentiful and easy to spot, they are the largest insects you’re likely to see in Massachusetts. Factor in their interesting behaviors and dazzling display of colors, and it's no wonder odonates are among the most attractive insects in the eyes of scientists and the public alike!
Worldwide there are more than 5,000 known species of odonates. They come in a dazzling array of colors, some even appearing iridescent in sunlight. Best of all, adults of all species eat a steady diet of other flying insects, including those pesky mosquitoes and black flies.
Two suborders of Odonata occur in Massachusetts: Zygoptera (damselflies) and Anisoptera (dragonflies). And while dragonflies and damselflies may look very similar at first glance, it's fairly easy to spot the differences between the two groups.
In total, more than 180 species of odonates have been recorded in New England, representing 10 different Odonata families.
Why Monitor Them?
Odonate taxonomy is well known. There are many helpful field guides and reference websites available nowadays to people at all levels of scientific interest.
In fact, expertise in odonate identification (especially at Mass Audubon) has increased in recent years largely through the efforts of amateur naturalists and birders!
Besides engaging the public with our conservation efforts, there are a number of other reasons why odonates are an important group to monitor at our wildlife sanctuaries:
- They occur in a variety of habitats—along streams and rivers, at the edges of ponds and forests, in wet meadows, and in fields.
- Odonate larvae are sensitive to environmental changes and have been used as indicators of water quality and habitat change.
- Their presence can be interpreted to mean that the aquatic habitat at or near a wildlife sanctuary is adequate to support larval growth and development.
- The 166 species that occur in Massachusetts provide a manageable opportunity for comparing long-term changes in species richness.
To date, 147 species of odonates have been recorded at Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries. This compares with 166 species recorded in Massachusetts and 180+ in all of New England.
Report a Sighting
If you encounter any odonates while visiting a wildlife sanctuary, we encourage you to upload it to Mass Audubon's biodiversity initiative on iNaturalist! All you need to get started is a computer or smartphone. Contribute your sightings >
The conservation teams at our wildlife sanctuaries rely on a dedicated corps of volunteer community scientists to conduct odonate surveys each year. Contact a specific sanctuary to inquire about current volunteer opportunities for odonate monitoring.
Take a Program
In the spring and summer, Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries around the state often host programs that explore dragonflies, damselflies, and odonate conservation. Check our program catalog to see what's coming up next!