Thursday, December 20, 2007

2nd Annual Carl Sagan Blog-a-thon: Carl's marching orders

I can't remember exactly where I first read this Sagan quote. But Carl was finishing a lecture when an inquisitive student came forward with a question. "I have many interests," she said, " I'm not sure what I should study or what I should do. But I really want to make a difference in this world." Carl replied, "Anything else you're interested in is not going to happen if you can't breathe the air and drink the water. Don't sit this one out. DO SOMETHING."

Those words always stuck in my mind. But what can I do? I have many interests, but am I actually contributing anything to this planet?

This year, a friend told me about a workshop by an entomologist who studies dragonflies. I've had a life long obsession with insects and spiders, even participating in some research and collecting expeditions, but I knew little about dragonflies--so I decided to go.

Well, now I'm an official 'volunteer entomologist' for the State of New York in the "New York Dragonfly And Damselfly Survey". The goal of this project is to survey the "Odonate" (dragonflies and damselflies) populations of the state. Although NYState has a rich population of these insects, no thorough survey has ever been conducted.

These are significant insects. For one--they eat mosquitoes! Even your most bug-phobic friend will be enamored with that fact! Because the immature stages of Odonates are aquatic, they are indicators of water quality. Although some species can tolerate a mild pollution, most tend to be sensitive to water quality issues. A sudden drop in diversity might indicate someone is dumping something nasty into your swimming hole, recreational lake, or water supply. In a broad sense, a healthy and diverse population of dragonflies may mean a healthy and diverse local environment.

Interest by the general public for these insects is growing, some claiming "dragon watching" is nearly as popular as bird watching. And no wonder! Dragonflies are swift predators, catching their prey on the wing. They exhibit complex behaviors, such as guarding territories and performing unusual mating rituals. Close-up, many are revealed to be beautifully colored with lovely wing patters. Not only that, these insects are completely harmless: they don't have stingers. Even if carelessly handled, the largest ones are only capable of a feeble bite.

If you have a knack for bugs, a love a nature or some time to contribute, consider joining the project. It's funded through 2008. Click on the DDNYS link, and that will get you started.

Even if you are not interested in the survey, dragon watching is a great hobby. If you are a deep bio-geek like I am, you know nature focused hobbies are only as good as their field guides. Up till recently, there was not much in the book department to help the amateur identify these insects. Fortunately, that is changing. Here's two recommendations if you live in the Northeast:

"Damselflies of the Northeast: a Guide to the species of Eastern Canada and the Northeast" by E. Lam. EO Wilson described this book as "a small masterpiece". This is one of the most beautiful guide books I have ever seen. The artwork is stunning.

"A Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Massachusetts" by B. Nikula, J. Ryan, and M. Burne. This book is considered the bible among Odonate fans in the Northeast. There's great macrophotography and detailed drawings to help you key-out the more problematic species.

Click on the titles to find out how to order the books. They are small press, so you order them directly from the publisher.

A more general guide is "Dragonflies through Binoculars" by S. Dunkle. Although not as detailed as the above two books, it covers the entire USA. It's a good book to start with if you just want to test the waters. It's available from online booksellers.

Among us Neo-Pagans, Carl Sagan is considered something of an Avitar, a special individual of great power who brings an important message. (If you think Dalai Lama or Ghandi, you'll have an idea what we mean by Avatar.) When I was new to Wicca, I remember mentioning Sagan and his 'Cosmos' series at a meeting. The entire room got quite at the mention of his name! I asked someone about this later. She rolled her eyes a bit, kidding me about my newbie question. "Of couse" she said, "Sagan was an amazing man, he's an incredible source of inspiration."

One of the primary characteristics of Neo-Paganism is a love of and identification with the Earth. We perform our Sabbats and Rituals to the tune this planet plays. Why not do more than pay lip service to helping the Goddess. She has done so much and shown us so much. Yet it's now so clear she needs our help. In my small way, I think now I have found an area where I can contribute. Whether it's planting trees, saving the whales...whatever, all of us should try to find some niche where we can contribute.

So Wiccans and Neo-Pagans who are reading this, listen to Carl Sagan: DO SOMETHING!

(Check out Joel's Page for more information on Carl Sagan blog-a-thon. Pic from the cover of Ed Lam's "Damselfies of the Norheast")


Livia Indica said...

Carl Sagan and dragonflies, wow! I'll be passing this on to some friends.

genexs said...

Hiya Livia:

Thanx. I can't believe I was able to combine astronomy and entomology! Heh! I'm just finishing compiling all my data for the survey (working on a tricky ID right now) and am mailing it in. Btw, there are a couple of other books on dragonflies coming out. There's even a "Peterson's Field Guild" coming out soon, which is a sure sign this hobby is growing.


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