Southern New Jersey is in its second year of extreme weather - record rain last year, record heat this summer - so the appearance of unusual natural phenomena is not surprising.

At the end of July, dragonflies took flight in many locations in jaw-dropping numbers.

Don Freiday, director of birding programs at the Cape May Bird Observatory, reported so many swamp darners in the air at Cape May Point that you could hear them colliding with vegetation, each other and yourself.

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"I stood open-mouthed until one nearly flew in," he said.

At about the same time, Sara Condon, 73, of Ocean City, discovered dragonflies in her yard, with 30 perched on her short clothesline alone. "I had never seen that," she said.

Condon didn't know what kind they were, but they seemed to be smaller than swamp darners, one of the biggest dragonflies.

Condon likes that dragonflies eat bugs that bite us, such as mosquitoes and gnats.

The dragonfly phenomena seemed to be localized. Large numbers were also reported in Somers Point, but in neighboring Linwood, where I live, the dragonfly patrol of our habitat garden has been normal.

What I have had that is highly abnormal is an insect much less welcome than a dragonfly.

Caterpillars from milkweed tussock moths - sometimes called milkweed tiger moths - are defoliating the milkweed that I grow as a nursery for monarch butterflies.

Ordinarily, I hardly notice the inch-long caterpillars covered with black, white and orange tufts of hair.

This year, there are several on each milkweed, and unlike the monarch caterpillars, the tussock caterpillars strip all of the leaves to bare stalks.

Eventually, the caterpillars will turn into moths with drab gray wings and yellow abdomens with black spots.

At that point, they will become food for bats.

Friends just a block away said their milkweed has no tussock caterpillars, but I have heard they are hitting the gardens at the Nature Center of Cape May. Apparently, these are also localized population outbursts.

The decimation of my milkweed will probably reduce the garden's monarch production this year.

I'm not tempted to intervene, however. Whatever wild swings it has, nature will find its own best method of restoring balance.

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