Professor studies endangered dragonflies

Monday, July 14, 2008

SEDALIA, Mo. -- In the middle of a bog in the Big Buffalo Creek Conservation Area near Stover, the only sounds are the chirping of birds, buzzing of mosquitoes and the steady babbling of a shallow creek.

In the distance, a net slices through the still air as it comes down hard to catch a dragonfly.

The man behind the net is LaRoy Brandt.

Brandt is a biology professor with a doctorate in entomology. He teaches at State Fair Community College, where he is taking part in a study on an endangered species of dragonfly.

The Hines Emerald Dragonfly Recovery Project is sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Missouri Department of Conservation, and has slowly moved from northern Wisconsin, where this species of dragonfly is common, to central Missouri, in an attempt to find the insect's southern boundary.

This species is thought to be cross-breeding to create a subspecies of the Hines Emerald. It is important that Brandt capture as many specimens as possible so researchers can get a better idea of how many new subspecies are appearing.

Some days, Brandt can find a good location and take several specimens. After catching a dragonfly in his net, he places the sample in a kill jar. He then injects it with an alcohol mixture to preserve the specimen so it can be sent to a lab for genetic testing.

"The best place to find them is in an area where there is limestone with water seepage," Brandt said. "They mostly congregate in places where the water is stagnant, but they do like some flow."

The Missouri Department of Conservation gives him likely locations with habitat favorable to the Hines Emerald. Sometimes, his directions are only coordinates on a GPS system.

"It is thought that these dragonflies might have been here since the last ice age. To preserve their history, it is important to determine the genetic differences between dragonflies of the same species," Brandt said.

Even though Brandt has a passion for bugs, he wasn't always an enthusiast.

"When I was going to school at State Fair, I had a biology class with Jim Fowler. He always had a lot of classroom interaction and we were doing a lot with bugs. He must have seen something in me, because he really encouraged me to do more," Brandt said. "Now, it's what I love to do."

Not only does Brandt love dragonflies, but his granddaughter is learning to love them too. At the age of 2, she likes to sit on Brandt's lap and try to catch as many as she can. Brandt will be continuing his research next summer in Costa Rica. He will be teaching a class there where he will continue his study on the Hines Emerald.

"I think it will be a better place to look because it is mostly rain forest with a tropical climate. There will be more possibilities of finding subspecies," Brandt said.

Even though the Big Buffalo Creek location didn't give up any samples of this endangered species, Brandt isn't discouraged.

"When people are able to put a name to a species, they care more. A few students are even coming out here to help me," Brandt said. "I want this project to give them the desire to get involved in the conservation effort."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: