Vermont has not benefited from a formal statewide Odonata survey. Instead, this atlas draws on more than 125 years worth of recorded observations, including a new wave of field work that began around the year 2000. The atlas data set now includes more than 10,000 records — and it's growing.
The spark for this atlas was a comprehensive publication on the state’s odonate fauna by Michael Blust and Bryan Pfeiffer in the Bulletin of American Odonatology (Blust and Pfeiffer 2015). Blust and Pfeiffer’s data set now resides at Odonata Central, where it is regularly updated with new records, many of which come through the Vermont Atlas of Life's iNaturalist portal. The growing data set is used to generate the live distribution maps here on the atlas site.
A History of Vermont Odonata Studies
A.P. Morse, a naturalist associated with Wellesley College in Massachusetts, collected the first odonate in Vermont on July 16, 1891 – Delta-spotted Spiketail (Cordulegaster diastatops) – in the town of Jay. Two days later, Morse collected an Eastern Red Damsel (Amphiagrion saucium) from Montgomery in Franklin County and five days after that a Fawn Darner (Boyeria vinosa) from Wolcott in Lamoille County. Many of A.P. Morse’s specimens are housed in the MCZ and the Peabody Museum at Yale. His collecting was concentrated in the Woodstock area and a total of 20 species are represented from there. Zygopterans account for 90 of his 106 Vermont records. A few of these records may well be duplicates, as it is difficult to correlate physical specimens with published information. Unfortunately, many of the museum specimens do not include dates.
The first published records of Vermont Odonata were recorded by Philip Calvert (1905). His Odonata section of the Fauna of New England, a four-page table of species from the six New England states, shows a mostly empty column for Vermont, already the least surveyed of the New England states. Of the six Vermont records that Calvert included, four came from Mrs. Annie Trumball Slossan of Newport. Mrs. Slossan, most noted for her literary works, was no casual naturalist. In 1925 she donated her insect collection to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York – a mere 35,000 specimens. She was also named an honorary member of the Brooklyn Entomological Society. Her 14 Vermont specimens, representing seven species, are in the AMNH collection, two specimens are housed in the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Science and one is listed for the National Museum of Natural History in Washington.
Heber Howe, headmaster of the Middlesex School and associated Thoreau Museum of Natural History in Concord, Massachusetts, wrote a series of works on New England Odonata (Howe 1917 – 1927). Howe never collected in Vermont himself; several other collectors sent him specimens or records. One of the few Vermont residents who contributed to Odonata information was a bryologist and member of the Vermont Botanical and Bird Club, Mr. D. Lewis Dutton (Dutton 1920; Burchsted). His observations, primarily from the town of Brandon, were all reported in Heber Howe’s various works. Dutton gets credit for contributing the greatest number of species to the state list with 27 during the period from 1912 to 1920. His specimens may be housed at the National Museum, as there are accession records for at least some odonate specimens from Howe to the museum in 1917(8) (Ravenel 1919).
Around the same time, Charles Willison Johnson made several forays into Vermont from Massachusetts. He was president of the Boston Society of Natural History from 1902 to 1913, and later served as its curator of insects and mollusks. (Johnson 2004). Although only 16 records are attributed to C.W. Johnson, mostly reported by Howe, six were new species for the state.
From that point, with about 50 species recorded for Vermont, additional odonate observations were sporadic for approximately the next 38 years as various collectors contributed isolated records. Again, most data appears to have come from visitors to the state, rather than residents. The data for this period largely comes from the MCZ, the Peabody Museum and the Zadock Thompson Natural History collection at the University of Vermont (UVM). A few notes are warranted on some of the people involved. Arthur Loveridge was a herpetologist associated with the MCZ (Burchsted). Alexander Petrunkevitch emigrated from his native Russia and became a professor at Yale. His name is better known in arachnology for his describing more than 100 species (Peabody Museum 2005). G.E. Pickford most likely refers to Grace Pickford, a zoologist at Yale and doctoral student of Petrunkevitch (Hiram). W.W. Bowen probably refers to W. Wedgewood Bowen, a medical entomologist and amateur ornithologist who became curator of the Natural History Museum for Sudan (Tigani) and, closer to Vermont, curator of the Natural History Museum at Dartmouth (Dartmouth Yearbook 1965). In 1945, C.P. Alexander, the crane fly expert from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, added a few Odonata records, including Vermont’s first Southern Pygmy-Clubtail (Lanthus vernalis).
It was in 1955 that James G. Needham and Minter J. Westfall published the first edition of their North American dragonfly manual (Needham and Westfall 1955). In the manual’s species descriptions, 30 Anisopterans are indicated to have been recorded in Vermont at the time. Needham and Westfall included two species for which we have no records prior to 1955. Unfortunately, no sources were given and no information was found in Westfall’s notes. One of these species, White Corporal (Ladonna exusta), remains unsubstantiated in the state. For the other, Prince Baskettail (Epitheca princeps), no confirmed records existed until 1995.
In 1958 Paul D. Harwood made a short but productive collecting trip to Vermont. Harwood was a helminthologist from Ohio, but also an avid odonatologist who published on the Odonata of Ohio and West Virginia (Stuckey 1997). His collections were donated to the International Odonata Research Institute (IORI) at the University of Florida at Gainesville. In his two-day visit, Harwood added five species to the state list.
The University of Vermont Zadock Thompson Natural History Collection contains a significant number of Odonata specimens, a few as old as 1920 but most collected from 1961 to 1999, thanks largely to Dr. Ross Bell and the many students who prepared collections for his classes. There are numerous county records and even a few first state records that the students were unaware of as they swung nets to fill their course requirements.
The seventies saw increased activity, again largely from out-of-state collectors or individuals living only temporarily in Vermont. Hal White, from Delaware, visited the state for two days in June of 1970 and again for two days in July of 1975. He and others of this time period were particularly intrigued by the boreal habitat of the Northeast Kingdom. White’s interest in north woods Odonata led to publications on the Odonata of New Hampshire and another on Mt. Desert Island, Maine. He contributed 10 new species to Vermont’s list (White and Morse 1973; White 1989; White, personal communication).
Another avid collector, Paul Miliotis, collected in Vermont from 1973 to 1976 and accompanied Hal White in July of 1975 in a trip to Northeastern Vermont. During this time, Miliotis expanded the knowledge of Odonata in Vermont by visiting a variety of sites previously uninvestigated for Odonata and by actively collecting throughout the flight season. His contributions, including five state records, are in the collection at UVM, the IORI collection, the Brackenridge collection in Texas and the Slater Museum of Natural History in Washington. A third party to the July 1975 trip to Vermont, the northeastern corner commonly known as the “Northeast Kingdom,” was Frank Louis Carle. Carle’s contributions to Vermont Odonatology are extensive, and began in 1969. Carle graduated from UVM in 1972 with a degree in forestry and wildlife. He then moved on to the University of Virginia for graduate work, but later returned to Vermont to conduct odonate work for the state (Carle 1982).
Two other notable visitors to the state were Sidney Dunkle and Mintor Westfall. Dunkle visited briefly in 1973, adding Saffron-winged Meadowhawk (Sympetrum costiferum) to the state list, and then spent five days in July of 1982 collecting in the Northeast Kingdom, finding the state’s first Ski-tipped Emerald (Somatochlora elongata). Westfall visited a friend on Lake St. Catherine in 1982 and 1986, during which he added five species to the state list, most notably Mottled Darner (Aeshna clepsydra). Also from 1982 are a few specimens attributed to the late George Bick whose daughter lives in Vermont.
In 1987 the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) produced a report on the effects of acid rain (Fiske 1987) using insect biomonitoring data. Oddly enough, this report became the first of a series of reports in which Odonata information for Vermont was finally beginning to be organized. Most of the odonate data from the DEC’s biomonitoring program comes from Doug Burnham, who had the unenviable task of working exclusively with larvae, many of which were not in final instars. Although we have reviewed this data and some of the specimens for this publication, it remains likely that more discoveries are to be mined from this impressive collection of larval data.
In 1988, Dr. Peter Nothnagle produced a report for Vermont’s Nongame and Natural Heritage Program that marked the first modern attempted list of Odonata species for the state (Nothnagle 1988). Nothnagle had a Ph.D in entomology, but studied insects as an avocation. He was frequently called upon throughout New England to do contract work for various state agencies. In his Vermont report, he used data from the DEC, range notations from Needham and Westfall’s 1955 manual and information from Dunkle (Dunkle 1983) to compile a list that confirmed 64 species of Odonata for the state. Given that the DEC’s data rarely identified Zygoptera to species, and that Zygoptera were not included in Needham and Westfall, 61 of the 64 species confirmed were Anisopterans. The list also carried forward some questionable species likely resulting from larval mis-identifications. Using information from neighboring states, Nothnagle also had a list of 29 species (including Zygoptera) likely to occur in Vermont and 33 species considered as possible. It should be noted that as of this particular publication, all 29 of the likely species and 25 of the 33 possible species have since been recorded in the state, while an additional two have been reported but not verified.
In 1994, Frank Carle, by now with a Ph.D. in entomology from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, compiled a state list for Vermont. Carle used his own data plus data from White and Dunkle. He combined this with information from Nothnagle’s report and with specimens from the University of Vermont, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the National Museum. In this report, Carle assigned tentative state rankings along with indications of the number of known localities for each species. At that time he indicated 103 species recorded in the state and 62 additional possibilities. Of those possibilities, 37 have since been found. One additional species, Big Bluet (Enallagma durum), has been found that was not included in Carle’s list. Carle also began a multi-year project surveying Odonata of the southern Green Mountain National Forest (1994, 1995 and 1997). During this survey, he added 10 species to the state list (Carle 1997).
In late June of 1997, the Dragonfly Society of the Americas had a gathering in western Rutland County (Novak 1998), and notes from Blair Nikula, Richard Orr and others at the meeting documented the addition of Rapids Clubtail (Gomphus quadricolor) and Stygian Shadowdragon (Neurocordulia yamaskanensis). During the next few years several researchers were at work. Chris Fichtel, who had helped Frank Carle on some of his surveys, was doing some odonate work for The Nature Conservancy. Don Miller, an active entomologist in Vermont, did survey work for the state in the Northeast Kingdom and in the Colby Hill area (Miller, 1999-2003). Jim MacDougall visited the Northeast Kingdom several times between 1997 and 2000, sometimes joining Miller on his outings. In addition, Mark McPeek, a professor at Dartmouth, had been working on damselfly evolution and ecology in the region.
It was in 2001 that Mike Blust and Bryan Pfeiffer began independently focusing on Odonata of Vermont and quickly teamed up to coordinate efforts. Blust had worked with odonates for his master’s thesis, and had continued an interest in aquatic insects. With the updated volume of Needham and Westfall and the first comprehensive field guide for odonates written by Dunkle, it was an open invitation to erase Vermont’s reputation as the Northeastern state mostly poorly surveyed. Paul Brunelle was instrumental in this phase with two visits to the state, in 2000 and 2001, sponsored by the Vermont Entomological Society and Bryan Pfeiffer. Brunelle also compiled Vermont data from various locations and passed it on to the authors of this report. In the ensuing eight years, 16 species were added to the state list and the average county list climbed to 89 species from about 30. In 2005 the Vermont Wildlife Action Plan (Kart, et al. 2005) included Odonata as a priority insect order among its invertebrate analyses. The plan listed 42 odonates (32 Anisoptera and 10 Zygoptera ) as Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN). From 2007-2009, Pfeiffer, working under contract for the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, conducted extensive surveys for SGCN Odonata in peatlands and rivers (Pfeiffer 2009).
Several other individuals have more recently contributed to the knowledge of odonate distribution in the state. Kevin Hemeon, a New Yorker from over the line near Bennington County, has made numerous contributions, including adding Big Bluet (Enallagma durum), to the state list. Meanwhile, David Hoag’s work in Grand Isle included finding the state’s first Swamp Darner (Epiaeschna heros). In addition, a corps of entomologists and naturalists from Massachusetts, particularly Fred Morrison and Lynn Harper, have added vital records from the southeastern corner of the Vermont. More recently, Wally Jenkins is adding to the Addison and Chittenden county lists. Josh Lincoln has filled in records in central Vermont, including the most recent addition to the state list: Double-striped Bluet (Enallagma baisidens). Laura Gaudette has provided much-needed coverage in the southeastern portion of the state, including Vermont’s first Banded Pennant (Celithemis fasciata).
Other notable collectors to visit the state and add to its collection of data include Dennis Paulson from Washington, Ginger Brown from Rhode Island and George and Phoebe Harp from Arkansas. In addition, numerous other individuals not mentioned here have contacted us with specimens or photos that have helped with this atlas.