HONOLULU (AP) — Scientists in Hawaii have started to introduce native damselflies into the wild on Oahu's North Shore to help repopulate the insect and potentially save the species from extinction.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has been releasing orange-black Hawaiian damselflies to an area near Dillingham Air Field, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Honolulu, Hawaii New Now reported Saturday.
Department officials said in a statement that the only other wild population of the insects is in Tripler Army Medical Center, but that the location is not ideal for population growth.
Kapua Kawelo, manager for the U.S. Army’s Natural Resources Program, said the state department's invertebrate program partnered with the Army to raise the endangered species in a breeding facility for introduction to the wild.
Crews have been releasing up to 120 damselflies every week for nearly a year and scientists said they are starting to see promising results. William Haines, a researcher with the state’s invertebrate program, said last year there were only 100 damselflies and now there are about 4,000.
“We’re starting to see individuals emerging from the stream that are not marked, which means they are wild born,” Haines said. “That’s really encouraging to see they’re completing their entire life cycles in the wild.”
Haines added that they were able to document the progress because all the released damselflies have a small number marked on their wings.
Hawaiian damselflies are threatened by mosquito fish, which were introduced in the early 1900s to control mosquitos but are now causing damselfly populations to decline. The insects are found in small populations on Oahu, Hawaii Island, Maui and Molokai. The species is extinct on Lanai.
Researchers have said that damselflies can help control mosquito and fly populations.
“They are an important part of the Hawaiian ecosystem. We used to have about 25 species of Hawaiian damselflies that are all endemic, so they’re only found in Hawaii,” Haines said. “They’re important predators of other insects.”