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June Tveekrem - Here There Be Dragonflies
07.20.12
 
Optical Engineer and nature photographer Dr. June Tveekrem considers herself unusual because she has both an analytical and an artistic side. “About ten years ago,” says Tveekrem, “I began photographing animals and insects including just about anything that walks, crawls, flies, hops, or slithers in front of my camera.” She is particularly fond of photographing dragonflies. “They’re beautiful,” she explains. “Photographing dragonflies is a rewarding challenge. Only a few professional entomologists study them, so amateurs can make significant contributions to this field.” She focuses on dragonflies in Maryland and Minnesota, her parental home.

Tveekrem and a friend already discovered a species new to Minnesota called the Quebec Emerald. After verification by experts, their find and accompanying photographs were announced in Argia, an international publication of the Dragonfly Society of the Americas. She also has an upcoming article in The Journal of the Maryland Entomological Society concerning the results of a five-year dragonfly count in Howard County, Maryland, which is an ongoing volunteer effort organized by Tveekrem.

Male Quebec Emerald dragonfly Image of a male Quebec Emerald dragonfly. Credit. J. Tveekrem
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“The count establishes a baseline of what species there are in this area. Over time, you can track changes in the population,” explains Tveekrem. Count volunteers have identified 95 dragonfly species comprising tens of thousands of individual dragonflies in Howard County. She also lectures at the Black Hill Nature Center and Hashawha Environmental Center, both of which are in Maryland.

Male Carolina saddlebags dragonfly on hand Image of a male Carolina Saddlebags dragonfly on June' s hand. Credit: J. Tveekrem
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She is currently creating an online field guide to Maryland dragonflies. “I don’t have as much text as many field guides, but the pictures are enough for most people to identify them. My pictures have also been used in two printed field guides in the United States and one in the Netherlands. We have a species commonly found here that occasionally shows up in the Netherlands,” says Tveekrem. “The Green Darner dragonfly, which is 3.5 inches long, is capable of flying across the Atlantic under its own power, given a decent tailwind! Experts believe that this dragonfly can rest en route by perching on seaweed, wood, plastic bottles, or other debris floating on the water.”

“A great variety of dragonflies can travel up the coast,” continues Tveekrem. “I have personally seen dragonflies in Maryland which are native to South Florida. They most likely hug the coast and travel under their own power. They’re not as delicate as they look.” When the dragonflies are over land, scientists can track these dragonflies by using tiny transmitters.

“There are more different kinds of dragonflies than anyone realizes until you start looking at them,” says Tveekrem. Dragonflies range in size from half an inch to three and one half inches; occur in many colors, some iridescent, including blue, green, red, yellow, orange, brown, black, and white; and can have patterns such as spots, patches, and stripes. Their lifespan as a winged creature lasts only through the summer. “Dragonfly eggs are laid in water,” explains Tveekrem. “The eggs then hatch into larvae, which live underwater anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of years before changing into the winged, air-breathing form.”

Dragonflies live near rivers and ponds so Tveekrem generally wades into the water to photograph them. “My first preference is to photograph a dragonfly perching naturally, but some dragonflies never sit still,” notes Tveekrem. “So I use a butterfly net to catch them, but this is strictly catch, photograph, and release.”

“There is no reason to be afraid of them. They don’t bite and, despite their long, thin bodies, they don’t even have a stinger. In fact, they breathe through their tails as they don’t have lungs. They are wonderful to have around because they eat mosquitoes,” explains Tveekrem.

Tveekrem offers two final thoughts: “Please do not be afraid of dragonflies. Also, remember to be attentive to the hidden beauty of nature’s creatures.”

Nonetheless, traditional western European cultures sometimes perceive dragonflies as mean. “The Spanish call them ‘ponies of the devil.’ My favorite myth is that dragonflies are the devil’s darning needle and can sew your eyes shut. In Asia, however, dragonflies are often revered. Some Chinese believe that dragonflies deliver fond greetings from the dead,” she explains.

Female blue dasher dragonflyImage of a female Blue Dasher dragonfly. Credit: J. Tveekrem
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“Here there be dragons” is a phrase from Medieval mapmaking. These maps were of the known world beyond which, at the edges of the page, was generally found the statement “Here there be dragons.” For Tveekrem, “Here there be dragonflies.”

Related Links:

› Tveekrem's website on dragonflies and other winged creatures
› More Outside Goddard profiles
 
 
Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.