Dragonfly populations are telling us that something is wrong
Dragonflies are considered beautiful symbols of nature and new beginnings. They undergo a total transformation from aquatic larva to aerial insect.
Some rely on multiple generations to complete one migration cycle to and from Canada. They are both voracious predators and important food sources to many other species. And like a canary in a coalmine, they can alert us when something is seriously wrong.
Today, dragonfly populations are telling us that something is wrong. Of the world’s 6,016 species of dragonflies and damselflies, 16 per cent are at risk of extinction. Research shows these are indicator species for biodiversity and our environment—and wetland loss is the leading cause of their woes.
Though these iconic creatures are facing global declines, it’s not too late in Canada. Keep scrolling to learn more about dragonflies, their ecosystems and how the wetlands we’re saving, together, give us good reason to be hopeful.
What do dragonflies eat?
The common green darner as part of an ecosystem.
Of the 154 native species of dragonflies in Canada, the common green darner may be most familiar to many of us. Green darners use wetlands across Canada for every stage of their lifecycle and are inextricably connected to many other species. This graphic highlights just a few.
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What do dragonflies tell us about biodiversity loss?
Canada is known around the globe for our incredible wildlife and wild places. Our wetlands punch above their weight in supporting biodiversity in Canada and beyond.
It’s easy to see that we have an incredible opportunity—and responsibility—to address biodiversity loss first by conserving wetlands.
Though most of Canada’s dragonfly species are not currently in trouble, others around the world are. If Canada continues to lose wetlands and fall short on monitoring habitat loss, we risk the future of these creatures—creating a ripple effect with negative consequences for entire ecosystems.
- Globally, 40 per cent of species rely on wetlands, including dragonflies
- The world’s wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests
- A staggering 35 per cent of the world’s wetlands were lost between 1970-2015 alone
- Canada is home to nearly 25 per cent of the world’s remaining wetlands
- In addition to insects like dragonflies, more than 550 wildlife species rely on Canada’s wetlands, including 97 species listed as at-risk
- Climate change is driving some species further north with impacts that could be similar to invasive species—creating new competition for Canada’s native dragonflies and wildlife
What do dragonflies mean to people?
Dragonflies are linked to us through both our environment and our culture.
Research shows that the wetland habitats dragonflies depend on do a lot of good for human wellbeing, too. These wetlands:
- Help us adapt to climate change by providing a buffer for extreme weather
- Help reduce climate change by capturing and storing greenhouse gases
- Reduce the severity of both flooding and drought by acting like giant sponges on the landscape
- Give us cleaner water by capturing and processing nutrients like phosphorus
Wetlands can also help provide balance among the wild species that regularly touch our lives, such as pollinators, biting insects, fish, birds, and of course…dragonflies.
For some, the spiritual meaning of dragonflies is significant. Dragonflies can symbolize change, hope, adaptability and new beginnings—a logical connection to the transformation they undergo in metamorphosis, from drab aquatic larva to beautiful adult dragonfly.
Easy ways to help Canada’s wildlife and our environment
Dragonfly populations have adapted and survived for more than 300 million years. Now they are giving us a warning—and we need to respond. The good news is that everyone can make a difference. Here are three easy ways you can help:
Even a small donation can conserve threatened habitat that will be home to countless generations of damselflies and dragonflies long into the future.
Log your dragonfly observations in Project Dragonfly on iNaturalist and follow us on social media for project updates.
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Learn more about conservation and biodiversity in Canada
For more than 85 years, we’ve been Canada’s wetland conservation leader.
Together with our sister organizations in the United States and Mexico, we address habitat conservation at a continental scale—making sure migratory species like ducks and dragonflies find the habitat they need everywhere they go.
Check out these stories to learn more about wetland conservation and biodiversity in Canada.
Does your class or group want to learn more about dragonflies? Book our online Critter Dipping workshop to discover the wonders of the dragonfly life cycle and other wetland invertebrates.
Answers to commonly asked questions about dragonflies and their ecosystems, from the Project Dragonfly webinar.
How citizen science and wetland conservation are helping important indicator species.
In the world of dragonfly and butterfly migration, it can take more than one generation to complete a round-trip from north to south and back again.
Researchers are studying how pollinators and other beneficial insects use wetland habitats