Sunday, June 1, 2014

Review: Britain’s Dragonflies

My first photograph of a dragonfly in Minnesota for 2014—a Twelve-spotted Skimmer found in Rice County on 30 May. One of the delights of dragonfly watching in Minnesota is the diversity of odes (odes is short for Odonata, the order containing the dragonflies and damselflies). Rice County, not a huge area, has a list of 74 species. The United States and Canada supports some 450 species.

Compare those numbers with Britain and Ireland’s total of 56 dragonfly and damselfly species. Dave Smallshire and Andy Swash have recently published a new edition of their guide, Britain’s Dragonflies (sample pages can be seen by clicking the link). This book will delight any dragonfly enthusiast. This 224-page field guide, covering so few species, has plenty of room to excel.

The species accounts contain 450 large, color photographs. Five hundred and fifty diagrams of important field marks are also included. Males, females, immatures and all color phases for every species are illustrated. A small map indicates where to look for species. Short paragraphs include descriptions, behavior, habitat, and conservation concerns. Boxes at the end explain where and how to look for each species and how to separate each dragonfly from similar species.

The beginning of the book describes dragonfly anatomy, ecology and life cycles. Also covered are interesting subjects such as where to look for dragonflies and what to look for when beginning to identify them. What really sets this book apart, however, are the last 20 pages that cover how to identify dragonfly nymphs, the aquatic immature stages. Almost no field guide of North American dragonflies includes comparable material.

With a photograph of a fire-breathing dragonfly in the preface, this book even includes humor. The wonders of photoshop never end… One item missing from the book, however, is a paid-in-full ticket to London. Very few of Britain’s dragonflies or damselflies are found in North America. I wish we had a comparable book for Minnesota.

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