Thursday, January 17, 2013

Book Review: Dragonflies and Damselflies of Texas

The full title of this book is Dragonflies and Damselflies of Texas and the South-Central United States. This area includes Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. Thus the book covers a huge region often visited by dragonfliers and birders.

This audience for this book is probably folks who are not rank beginners. The book includes color photographs of almost all the species. The photographs, however, are relatively small and do not have arrows or text pointing out salient field marks. Most disconcertingly, the photos only indicate the location where the photo was taken and does not direct the reader to the appropriate pages for species accounts in the text. The computer-enhanced illustrations in Abbotts' Damselflies of Texas are far superior. But the damselfly book does not cover dragonflies and is limited to Texas.

The text is well-written and organized. Unlike many other dragonfly books, keys to the species, genera, and families help the reader note the critical field marks of each species. The accounts include size, regional and general distribution, flight season, identification, similar species, habitat, a short discussion, and references. Clear maps, showing counties where each species has been found, accompany each account. One assumes some of the blank spaces are simply unstudied counties. Also illustrated are odonate backends (often critical for correct species identification).

The introduction is short, only 14 pages, but covers a great deal of information. Habitat and zoogeography are discussed and are important, since the range accounts often refer to the biotic provinces of the region. Odonate life history and seasonality are covered. A few paragraphs on photographing odonates conclude that you should bring with your equipment "a healthy dose of patience."  Finally the introduction presents detailed drawings of various aspects of anatomy.

The book ends with a checklist of species and an extensive bibliography. The bibliography is to be expected in a book directed at professionals needing to identify odonates.  Indeed, Abbott occasionally refers to "this study found," which indicates the origin of the book may have been a dissertation or other scholarly work. Nevertheless, one of Abbott's goals is to pass along "as much natural history and other biological information about each species as possible."

The book covers 263 species, making somewhat more manageable than Paulson's Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West, with its 348 species. The keys to the species make Dragonflies and Damselflies of Texas indispensable for the dragonfly enthusiast.

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