Ideas

Wildlife is Where You Find It

May 19, 2016

A Blue-eyed Darner Dragonfly in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo © Bryant Olsen / Flickr through a Creative Commons license

Recently, I was in New York City on a warm spring day, hustling with the multitudes down Park Avenue in Midtown along the concrete walks that pass by J.P. Morgan-Chase, Deutsch Bank, and other giants of the financial world.  Waiting for the crossing light at 48th street, I noted an attractive young woman on the opposite corner who was staring intently at a sign post.  Not the sign, but the sign post.

Now, I always seem to see strange things in New York, but fascination with a sign post was not yet on my list.

When the light indicated that we could cross without obvious danger to life and limb, I reached her side of the street.  I needed to examine the sign post myself to see what was so interesting.  And, there amidst the concrete jungle was a new emerged dragonfly flexing its wings in the morning sun.

Knowing that pupae of dragonflies spend the winter in shallow swampy waters waiting for spring, I wondered just how far this specimen had travelled to get to 48th and Park.  Was it the product of a concrete-lined lily pond in front of a nearby office building or a long-distance traveler from Central Park or some of the wetlands in New Jersey?  Only this dragonfly will know for sure.

But, what intrigued me most was this small appearance of nature in the midst of the urban jungle.  We don’t think of big cities as harboring a large slice of nature;  the birds are usually only rock pigeons, house sparrows and starlings—all exotics from Europe.  And, we seem to relish exotic plantings in our gardens.  But, here on Park Avenue was a denizen of an unknown wetland, still clean enough to support dragonflies and close enough to the City to rouse the curiosity and wonder of an observant pedestrian on her lunch break.

We may live in an urban jungle, but look around, lest we forget our connection to nature.

This post originally appeared on William H. Schlesinger’s blog Citizen Scientist, published by Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

William H. Schlesinger

William H. Schlesinger is one of the nation’s leading ecologists and earth scientists and a passionate advocate for translating science for lay audiences. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, he has served as dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke and president of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. More from William H.

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