A confluence of human actions and environmental changes have put many, many animal and plant species at risk. If you’re anything like me, hearing about the danger these species are in stings. Not necessarily because I feel the potential loss keenly, but because so often there’s nothing I can do about it.
Efforts to mitigate the loss of an endangered or threatened species are certainly worthwhile, but the effects of our actions can feel attenuated from the problem at hand. It gets me a little down to know that there has to be an enormous cultural and political shift in favor of sustainable development, even though I try my hardest to support such a shift with my time and money. I have nothing to feel bad about; I think it’s a normal reaction when confronted with an uphill battle.
So I love it when something simple comes along that makes it relatively easy to do the right thing and produces measurable results. A study partially funded by the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority found that simply not driving as fast could save thousands of endangered dragonflies.
The Hine’s emerald dragonfly is the only dragonfly on the federal endangered species list. The insect’s habitat originally spanned seven states. However, today you’ll only find the emerald dragonfly in four states. The largest population is found in Wisconsin, but they can also be spotted in Illinois, Michigan and Missouri.
The largest population of dragonflies have the unfortunate luck of living near a popular Wisconsin vacation site. Of the estimated 13,000 dragonflies in the area, about 3,300 are killed every year by summer drivers.
Now, no one is suggesting that you swerve for dragonflies. First, that’s dangerous. Second, it’s impractical. You have better eyes than I do if you can spot an insect more than a second before it hits your wind shield. But it turns out that just slowing down can save those little dragonfly lives.
Conservation biologist from the University of South Dakota Daniel Soluk and graduate student Amber Furness mounted cameras on a truck and drove around Door County, Wis., home to the largest population of Hine’s emerald dragonfly. They drove around at various speeds and determined that the emerald dragonflies don’t die if you hit them at lower speeds:
At speeds below 35 mph (56 km/h), Hine’s emerald dragonflies — and other kinds of dragonflies — survive their tumble over the hood, and fly away to live another day, Furness found. Faster speeds kill, according to Furness’ research, presented here Thursday (Aug. 14) at the Ecological Society of America’s annual meeting. The dragonflies are either killed on impact or they suffer severe shock and fall to the ground, and are run over by a second vehicle.
A speed limit of about 30 miles per hour could greatly reduce the number of this rare dragonfly that are killed every year. Actually, this speed limit wouldn’t even need to be a year-round thing. This particular species of dragonfly are only really active June through August.
Dragonflies may seem like small potatoes. However, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority has taken steps previously to mitigate dragonfly fatalities by raising a bridge span on Interstate 355. Dragonflies can’t collide with cars if the cars are too high.
It’s not that often that something as simple as a speed limit can really help conservation efforts. Given that dragonflies actually do play an important role in the ecosystem — they serve as water quality watchdogs, for example — hopefully this small action will go a long way.
Photo Credit: Rain via Flickr