Dragons do exist, and they’ve been around for over 300 million years! They might not breathe fire, but they do have six legs, four wings, and extremely keen eyesight. These mini dragons are carnivorous insects known as dragonflies (Anisoptera) and damselflies (Zygoptera), belonging to the insect Order Odonata. OdonataMAP, the Atlas of African Odonata, funded by the JRS Biodiversity Foundation is a project in the Animal Demography Unit’s Virtual Museum aiming to: (1) map the current distribution of the dragonflies and damselflies occurring in Africa; and (2) to serve as a repository of all existing distribution data for this group in the geographic extent of the project so that we can better understand their conservation priorities.
The first Shoot the Dragons Week for the 2018 Spring/Summer season kicked off on 22 September 2018. OdonataMAPpers were out and about, armed with their cameras, smiles and enthusiasm, to see how many dragonflies and damselflies they could snap and map. These beautiful insects are important monitors of water quality. They are sensitive to environmental change and play key roles in both terrestrial and aquatic habitats. They are predators as both nymphs and adults, feeding on a variety of prey including nuisance species such as mosquitoes and biting flies. Spending most of their lives underwater in rivers, streams, ponds, and lakes, their presence in aquatic environments is an excellent measure of water quality as they require clean water to thrive.
For the Week (which ran from 22 to 30 September 2018) a total 724 dragons were snapped, mapped and uploaded to the OdonataMAP database at http://vmus.adu.org.za. Records came in from Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe! For South Africa, most of the records came from KwaZulu-Natal Province (173).
Diana Russell mapped the most dragons for the Shoot the Dragons Week with 80 records, followed by Norman Barrett (76) and Richard Johnstone (41). This is amazing! A massive thank you also goes to each and everyone that contributed records during the week. Every single record counts. Of the 724 records that were submitted (which covers 73 different taxa), 78,5% have been identified already, thanks to the super OdonataMAP expert panel.
The dragon that was snapped and mapped most commonly during the Week was the Red-veined Darter Sympetrum fonscolombii, with 81 records, followed by the Tropical Bluetail Ischnura senegalensis (52) and Black Percher Diplacodes lefebvrii (34). There were 15 species for which more than 10 records were submitted during the Shoot the Dragons Week.
If you would like to contribute to OdonataMAP you can do so by uploading your photos, along with the locality details, to the ADU Virtual Museum at http://vmus.adu.org.za. For some handy tips on how to “shoot your dragon”, take a look at this slideshare: https://www.slideshare.net/Animal_Demography_Unit/how-to-shoot-your-dragon.