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Can the Rare Hine's Emerald Dragonfly Be Saved?

Chantelle is an avid hiker and bicycler, exploring forests, hiking paths and bike trails throughout Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Hine's Emerald Dragonfly

Hine's Emerald Dragonfly

Dragonfly Tales

While the war raged on, women burned their bras and students protested, we enjoyed idyllic summers punctuated by the laughter of cousins. Sunny warm days by the lake where marshmallow fights ruled, snail hunting constituted our big game, and a time that didn't consider suntan lotion necessary predominated.

From sunrise to sunset we spent our days at the lake. Shrieks of joy or terror filled our parents' ears, one unrecognizable from the other. These shrieks sounded fearsome but were really a purposeful visceral overreaction to an enemy that bound us together. That enemy, the Hine's Emerald Dragonfly, or as we euphemistically referred to them, "sewing needles", swooped up, down, and around in an aerial ballet of their own choreography. Fearing our eyes would be sewed shut by these masters of the sky, we would run for the safe cover of the porch, only to be dragged back into the drama of their awesome dance again and again.

Our private heaven, officially known as the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, was simply known to us as "Grandma's Camp." Hot dogs, burgers, and potato chips on paper plates were all the sustenance we needed and it was glorious. Refueled for battle, we would return to the lake, determined to not get caught and continue the dance of death with our arch enemy.

I think this is why I have always loved dragonflies. Not because of what they are but because of who they remind us we were; a wonder of the powerful natural world and how we fit into the grand scheme of it. "Grandmas Camp" was one of the last pieces of Eden that remained relatively untouched by the human hand, or so we liked to believe. With over 16,000 square miles of forested land and a little ever 300,000 people, the land is everyone's first friend. How could a tiny tough dragonfly survive the long, harsh winters that can dump 300 inches of snow between October and May yet be endangered? What arch-nemesis could be that strong?

The Hine's Emerald Dragonfly can now only be found in four states in the US.

More Than Just a Bug

Dragonflies, the Hine's included, are an amazingly successful species. Scientists consider dragonflies to be living fossils, having remained unchanged for over 300 million years. This diminutive beauty is only 2.5 inches long with a wingspan of 3 inches. Brilliant green eyes and a metallic green body with yellow racing stripes are its tell. They have four lacy wings that move independently of one another and are powered by large muscles. While the human heart beats a little over once a second, the dragonfly's wings flutter 35 times a second. Diving, soaring, and turning, their lacy wings can propel them up to 35 miles per hour.

In spite of their delicate appearance, the wings are remarkably strong, which is a tribute to the weight/strength characteristics of the tiny tubes, called veins, that reinforce the dragonfly wing. Dragonflies can do everything a helicopter can do, and much more quickly. They hover, fly backward, do loops and barrel rolls, and execute very tight turns. A hovering dragonfly can accelerate to top speed in a fraction of a second.

Their adult life is very short-lived, lasting between four to seven weeks. Feasting during the day on mosquitoes, deer flies, flying ants, and whatever they can capture in flight, females return to water to lay their eggs. Males join them and patrol the swale or pond where eggs are being deposited. It is a short, but intense, adulthood.

Fertilized eggs are deposited into shallow water alongside vegetation, or into soft muck. The eggs undergo maturation over winter and hatch into larvae the next spring. The ugly larvae have been called little "dirt balls" since dirt clings to the hairs that cover their bodies. They are voracious aquatic predators feeding night and day. They capture their food by means of a hinged lower lip that can be flipped forward to trap prey on stiff bristles. The lip can be extended about a third of the length of the larva's body, giving them enough reach to even capture small fish. Larvae breathe by means of gills inside the anal chamber, into which water is pumped, then forcibly expelled.

Over a three to four year period, larvae molt many times as they grow their way toward adulthood and an aerial existence. When they reach a pre-adult stage, they stop feeding and crawl out of the water onto vegetation, where they gulp air to inflate and expand their bodies. They break out of their larval skin and next inflate their wings, which become outstretched. Thereafter they wait as their body parts dry. Then they take flight to feed on other flying insects some distance from their watery birthplace.

Could They See It Coming?

The most highly developed sensory system of a dragonfly is sight. Their eyes cover a visual area of almost 360 degrees, and they are designed to detect even the slightest of movements and light flickering off the wings of prey insects. One scientist suggested that 80% of the dragonfly's brain is dedicated to processing and responding to visual information. So how did they not see it coming?

Rio Tinto, a multi-national mining consortium, purchased many tracts of land in the Upper Peninsula, almost 10 years ago. While the mining and groundwater clean-up necessary to protect the environment has been ongoing for years, iron ore mines do not pose as great a threat to the environment as these newcomers do. Sulfide mining is the new threat, and it is large.

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Metallic sulfide mining (aka hard rock mining) is the practice of extracting metals such as nickel, gold, and copper from a sulfide-rich ore body. Sulfides are a geologic byproduct of mining in this area. By exposing sulfides to the air and water in the atmosphere, sulfuric acid can be created, threatening to poison the nearby water, environment, and communities.

If sulfide ore or the tailings piles are exposed to water and air during mining, a chemical reaction can create sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid is essentially battery acid that leaches into the surrounding watershed killing and disrupting the growth and reproduction of aquatic plants and animals. There has never been a sulfide mine that has not polluted nearby water sources. Even more sobering is the legacy of sulfide mining—acid mine drainage. It poisons water forever (over 2500 years) effectively destroying the wilderness forever.

Here sits our little friend. Surviving 300 million years, enduring ice ages and asteroids, but disappearing at the hands of man. We have met the enemy and he is us.

Marshland in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

Marshland in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

Happy Ending?

The Hine's Emerald Dragonfly is not the only species susceptible to acid mine drainage. The entire ecosystem is in danger, including humans. Environmental groups are doing what they can as litigation has been started, and lost, yet the battle continues. Unfortunately, mining has already started and the best they can hope is to prevent additional mines from being opened and scrutinizing the clean-up and removal of toxic waste. Many states have banned sulfide mining, and unfortunately, Michigan isn't one of them.

How You Can Help

Limiting or eliminating your use of pesticides may not help the Hine's Emerald Dragonfly but will undoubtedly help the flora and fauna of your local ecosystem. If you wish to help save the Hine's Emerald Dragonfly and it's ecosystem, contact Save The Wild UP by clicking the link below.

© 2016 Chantelle Porter


Chantelle Porter (author) from Ann Arbor on February 09, 2016:

We have already lost so much to our own carelessness for the environment but I'm not sure anything will change anytime soon.

agusfanani from Indonesia on February 08, 2016:

It would be a big loss if we let this dragonfly extinct considering its important roles in environment.

Chantelle Porter (author) from Ann Arbor on February 08, 2016:

Thank you so much. If only words could stop the problem.

Laurel Johnson from Washington KS on February 08, 2016:

This is a beautifully written and informative article. I'm sad, knowing the impact mankind has had on the natural world. Well done!!

Chantelle Porter (author) from Ann Arbor on February 07, 2016:

It's hard to witness but important for people to know.

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on February 07, 2016:

Naturally I found this a very good piece on the problems of human destruction. Sadly, many insects are endangered now, and some we will never see again. Thanks for joining the bandwagon on the protection of nature and the ecosystem.

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