Just above the surface of an old farm pond at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area, the airspace is buzzing with dragons. It’s the perfect spot for young researchers to test their agility by balancing on logs while swinging their nets.
Dragonfly Detectives is an innovative partnership of the state parks system and the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences that trains 4th-8th graders as dragonfly citizen scientists at five state parks – Jordan Lake, Merchants Millpond, Lake Waccamaw, Cliffs of the Neuse and Goose Creek. During six separate field trips to a state park, students learn how to identify species, how to describe dragonfly behavior and how to capture and mark them on the wing.
An important lesson for the kids is that science requires a lot of patience and careful record-keeping. The students sit in total silence for multiple three-minute sessions while they count their study species, the crimson red Carolina saddlebags.
During another session, they take notes on dragonfly behavior such as feeding, mating or patrolling. Patrolling is when a territorial male dragonfly fights with rival males by periodically barnstorming off their lily pad perch.
This research yields data on dragonfly behavior, but also suggests how effective youth can be as scientists, said Chris Goforth, citizen science manager with the museum. Time and careful data analysis over a three-year period will help determine the reliability of young citizen scientists compared to professional researchers. But at any rate, a sense of wonder is fully engaged for the young Dragonfly Detectives.