Outreach and Odonates

Hello again! Today was our second last day on Pender Island, and we spent it mostly doing outreach in various places. Our time at the park has been fantastic, and I would have to say that it is my favourite park so far. The small island community of about 3,000 people has shown itself to be friendly and trustworthy. For example, they are proud of their car stops, which as far as I have seen, are unique to this island, but may be on the others as well. A car stop is specific spot where hitchhikers or people looking for a lift without a car can wait to get picked up by the people driving around. It makes sense on an island too small for taxis, where gas is 164 cents/L, and where a lot of people come by foot on ferries. It’s quite a change from big cities on the mainland where picking up hitchhikers is illegal. They also have stalls outside their little farms selling eggs and herbs. They are open to the public and not staffed; people can take what they want and are expected to pay in a small unlocked box. It takes a pretty special place for that to work, I think. There’s also a very successful farmer’s market that takes place on Saturday morning, and that’s where we did our first round of outreach.

Kate and Joey teaching some families all about the insect world at the Pender Island farmer's market.
Kate and Joey teaching some families all about the insect world at the Pender Island farmer’s market.

The market was very full, with people buying produce and freshly baked bread. Some of our crew even found tiny air plants grown in pieces of driftwood! A lot of people came by of every age range; groups of fascinated children, inquisitive middle aged people, and a few groups of retirees who were very interested in our work, especially for their grandchildren. We even had someone ask us where to find the best insect larvae to eat for extreme nature survival trips. The little girls especially were happily interested in the extensible jaw of dragonfly larve. All in all it was a very successful outreach event, and we gave away a record number of bookmarks and insect pins. We were on our feet the whole time. After the market we set up shop outside the local museum, open from one in the afternoon until four, to catch the second round of tourists and interested locals.

A blue-eyed darner we caught near the museum during our outreach. Dragonflies lose their colour soon after death, so this one won't be brilliant blue for long.
A blue-eyed darner we caught near the museum during our outreach. Dragonflies lose their colour soon after death, so this one won’t be brilliant blue for long.

Other than the museum volunteers and one family of keenly interested locals who were a delight to teach about insects, the museum location was relatively devoid of people. During the drought of visitors, we decided to set up a hand collection event and snag some of the dragonflies that are fantastically common in the fields. Dragonflies are in the infraorder Anispotera, which when combined with Zygoptera (damselflies) makes up the order Odonata.  They are the most adept fliers in the insect world, which is quite surprising considering they have a more ancestral wing set up. Where most other insects have a dependent wing system (one where opposing wings must move at the same time), Odonates have an independent system which allows movement and control of each individual wing. This wide range of control allows them to perform fantastic aerial feats, such as flying backwards (along with every other possible direction), and performing very minute lightning fast flight corrections to catch their small flying prey. This control, as well as their ability to fly up to 45 km/h and eyes that can see almost 360o becomes very apparent when trying to catch one in a net! The drawback to independent wings is that they cannot flap nearly as fast as dependent wings, with Odonates flapping a maximum of 30 times per second and some small dependently winged flies flapping at many hundreds. This limits their size to the upper ranges of flying insect size, which is why you can easily see the smallest damselfly, but many groups of flies can be small enough to fit through screen doors.

Tomorrow we’re taking down our sites, then on our way to Pacific Rim National Park!

Graham

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