Voucher specimens

Jump to:
Why is the checklist based only on voucher specimens?
Potential photo repository (Odonata Central; notes on iNaturalist, BugGuide)
How to prepare adult Odonata specimens
Collecting and preparing Odonata larvae and exuviae

Please note that some parks, refuges, and similar locales might not allow collecting, or require permits. As with any private property, please inquire with owners for collecting permission.

Collection of any species listed as threatened or endangered in the state of Michigan is prohibited by law without a state endangered species permit. If you have found a state-listed species in a new locale that you believe should be sampled, you can contact Julie Craves or Darrin O’Brien, who have this permit.

Why is the michigan checklist based only on voucher specimens?

Some state groups build their checklists using both specimens and photographs. The decision was made when the MOS was formed to base the checklist only on specimens.

1. While some odes may be conclusively identifiable via photographs, many are simply not able to be identified except in the hand. Please see this post – Identifying Odonata from photographs – for some examples and more information on this topic.

2. The identity of a physical specimen can be verified. A photograph is, by definition, just a snapshot of a particular pose or angle. Even a series of photographs cannot give all the information provided by a specimen. And while the data attached to a specimen, such as date or location, can surely be manufactured, this risk is also present for photographs — but the photos themselves can be fairly easily doctored. For those that doubt people would bother altering a photograph and posting it online in order to get recognition of finding something or adding it to a “list,” look no further than some of the elaborate scams that have been perpetrated on eBird, the birding community’s premier citizen science database.

3. We do not have the ability to curate and archive digital photo files (or print material) in a central, safe, and permanent location. With the popularity of digital photography in particular, some significant photo records end up online in personal photo galleries, newsletters, on social media, or in online repositories. Many of these are notoriously ephemeral. People remove their data or close their accounts. Web hosts go out of business. Even major websites on the servers of universities, governmental bodies, or NGOs have been taken down or reconstructed so that the original information is no longer where it was referenced or cited. The disappearance of the Ontario Natural Heritage Information Centre’s Atlas of Ontario Odonata is a great example.

4. The value of a specimen that can be examined, measured, genetically or molecularly tested, or analyzed in some way that we have yet to develop can reveal an enormous amount of data that no photograph will ever be able to convey.

For more on points 3 and 4, please see this post: Striped Saddlebags and the value of vouchers.

Potential photo repository

In the future, we would like to include some photographic records in the checklist as “Hypothetical” species. We will likely restrict this to primarily species of some importance — restricted habitat, edge of range, rarity, etc. We are likely to use only one repository for this purpose: Odonata Central. This site is not intended for identification, but for documentation of distribution. Records are vetted by experienced regional screeners. Darrin O’Brien serves in this capacity for Michigan, and therefore sees submissions for the state. Please consider using Odonata Central for your clear, diagnostic/identified photographs. The reviewers can/will correct an identification, but this site is not meant for submission of unidentified odes. We recommend using BugGuide if you need help in identifying photographs. This site also uses a network of experienced reviewers, has helpful information and identification aids, and is generally more robust for research (in our opinion) than sites such as iNaturalist or ProjectNoah.

A word about iNaturalist. Because this site is used heavily for identifications the number of submissions, especially of common species, can be very high. Anybody can suggest an identification, and once just two people agree (including the original submitter), the photograph is designated as “Research Grade.” We have looked at Odonata records on iNaturalist, and have found many photos to be unidentifiable, poor quality, and even a fair number that are not even dragonflies! There is a substantial percentage of misidentifications on Research Grade photos. We know some organizations are using iNaturalist for their state or local projects. However, we do not have the capacity to go through or keep up with the volume of submissions, or to validate the quality of the data. As has been stated on their site, the goal of iNaturalist is to connect people with nature, it is “NOT a science project” (emphasis is theirs). On the other hand, the Michigan Odonata Survey IS a science project. Our use of iNaturalist and similar applications as data sources is likely to be limited.

If and when we implement Hypothetical species from photographic records, we will post updates here.

How to prepare specimens of adult odonata

We have a page at Urban Dragon Hunters that explains how to properly prepare and document adult dragonflies and damselflies. View it here.

Ideally, vouchers should be submitted to a stable and accessible museum collection. The University of Michigan Museum of Zoology  has one of the premier insect collections in the world. The Odonata collection is also one of the best and largest in the world, and formed the basis for the Michigan Odonata Survey. The collections are housed at the Research Museums Center in Ann Arbor. The Cook Arthropod Research Collection is located at Michigan State University and also well-represented in the MOS database. The MOS also includes vouchers from other  museum collections and, in some cases, private collections as well.

We can help facilitate the process of depositing vouchers in a collection by providing a spreadsheet template and other assistance. Please contact Julie Craves at

Collecting and preparing Larvae and Exuviae

Ethan Bright authored an excellent guide to sampling Odonata larvae for the MOS. You can download the PDF here.

Mark O’Brien authored a similar guide to sampling Odonata exuviae (the shed larval skins) in 1999. You can download that PDF here.