April 29th , 2013 10:47 am Leave a comment

Rally to offer new hike on dragonflies, damselflies

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One of the new field trips at this year’s Roan Mountain Spring Naturalists Rally will take participants on a quest to find as many species of “odes” as they can in the space of a couple of hours.

“Odes,” according to hike leader James Neves, refers to winged insects known as dragonflies and damselflies.
Neves, who is also a director for the spring rally, will be leading this field trip.

“We’ve offered numerous insect-focused walks, but I’m not aware of any field trips focused specifically on this topic,” he said. “I’ll be focusing on the basics, starting with the differences between dragonflies and damselflies, and what the attributes are of different families in each group.”

The field trip will also offer a chance to look for those species.

Neves said participants may get to look at some of these winged insects in the hand, too, “if we’re quick enough to catch them.” He encourages participants to bring binoculars, especially those with a close focus within 10 feet. Cameras with a zoom capability and insect nets are also useful.

Neves explained that dragonflies and damselflies are both members of the taxonomic order of odonata. The order is one of many in the class of insects in the phylum of arthropods. Creatures as diverse as spiders, scorpions, crabs and shrimp are classified as arthropods.

As an analogy, Neves noted that primates are an order in the class of mammals in the phylum of vertebrates, or chordates.
“Because dragonflies and damselflies are both in odonata, most enthusiasts simply refer to them as ‘odes,’” Neves said.
Watching dragonflies and dragonflies, or odes, is a hobby that is gaining in popularity.

“I think there are a number of reasons for this,” Neves said. “A number of field guides are now available with excellent text and photography.”

He recommends “Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East” by Dennis Paulson and “Dragonflies and Damselflies of Georgia and the Southeast.”

“Field guides make learning about the topic accessible to more people and not only provides excellent guidance in identification but also observation techniques, habitat and location recommendations, and suggestions for applicable gear like insect nets and optical equipment,” he said.

He noted that advances in cameras have also played a huge factor, as it’s much easier to identify odes from photographs.
“Identification is both challenging and fun,” Neves said. “Not only are odes small, fast and very wary, but many species are very similar in appearance.”

To complicate matters, males of many species look different than females of the same species — just like with birds or butterflies.  “Many species can only be identified by looking at their anatomy up close under magnification, so if you want to know, you have to catch them or get extremely good photographs,” he said. “So, there’s the excitement of the pursuit of the insect.”

For Neves, chasing “odes” fills a lull that comes each year when birds assume a low profile.

“For me, I became interested not just from my natural curiosity, but also from a need to fill a void,” Neves said. “As a bird watcher out in the field looking at birds, there comes a period where the birds get inactive and quiet, and for the most part odes are active when birds are not.”

Photo Courtesy of Lewis TesterA Spangled Skimmer warms its wings in the sunshine.

Photo Courtesy of Lewis Tester
A Spangled Skimmer warms its wings in the sunshine.

Neves will lead his hike on dragonflies and damselflies as a Sunday afternoon hike. For more information on this hike or any of the other rally events, call Neves at (706) 224-3355 or email him at jamesneves@gmail.com. Information, including a complete schedule of events, is also available at www.friendsofroanmtn.org.

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