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Catching Odes

At some time, you may decide that you want to catch a dragonfly, to examine it closely or to get a positive ID. You can try the "hand-catch" method but it has a very high failure rate and a high injury rate as well. So you'll probably want a net. We discuss aerial nets in our equipment section. I call the two most popular ways to catch a dragonfly in a net the SWING METHOD and the PANCAKE METHOD.

Catching a dragonflyThe SWING METHOD is pretty obvious; swing the net like a baseball bat and try to catch the dragonfly in it. Follow through on your swing, especially with flying odonates, (think a tennis serve or your golf swing here) so that the dragonfly is completely in the net and can'tt fly out.  At the end of the swing, close the net by rotating the net handle.

The PANCAKE METHOD involves slapping the net over a dragonfly.  This method works best when the dragonfly is at rest on the ground or on aquatic vegetation.  After you've trapped the dragonfly, hold the net flat on the ground and lift the closed end of the net. Usually the dragonfly will often fly up into the net. Grasp the net below the dragonfly and close it to keep the dragonfly in.

Removing the dragonfly from the net:
Try to get all 4 wings and hold them together above the ode's back. Then gently take the bug out of the net. Be careful, you could pull off a leg or, if the insect is biting on the net, even the head. We want to keep injuries to a minimum here! Remember, if you put your finger near its mouth, a dragonfly can bite you. It probably won't draw blood, but a big dragonfly can make you yell OUCH!

After capturing the insect, examine it briefly with a hand lens.  When finished, release the dragonfly or damselfly into the air or place onto a perch.

Another important thing to keep in mind when on your dragonfly catching adventures: know where you are going to keep your dragonfly and what you plan to do with it beforehand.  The longer a dragonfly is held in captivity, the less likely its chance for survival. If you must keep it for an extended period of time keep it in a dark cool place, preferably a cooler, your bug's metabolism will slow down and his color will sometimes change dramatically.  Once it is again brought to outdoor temperatures the normal color will come back, but usually after the ode has flown away!

The best way to catch a dragonfly is from behind, not allowing your shadow to fall across the insect since their view is blocked directly to the rear. It's even best to swing at flying insects from behind when you can. Not only are they less likely to see the net, but they won't crash head-on into it.

Dragonflies are more easily caught during certain moments.  Some species are more active during the mornings and some during the evening, so know your species and the best time to catch them. Another good time to catch a dragonfly is when it is feeding and its attention is on its meal.  Dragonflies are also slower fliers in cool weather when their wings tend to be slower to warm up to flying and their reflexes are low.  I find the easiest catch to be on a cool morning while one is perched. 

Observing behavior has paid off for me in many a catch.  There are some families, notably the Cruisers and Spiketails and also a few Darners, who routinely patrol up and down streams and rivers keeping to the same flight paths even when you are near them.  If you wait patiently anticipating their next patrol, you stand a very good chance of netting them.

© 2019 Sheryl Chacon Search