The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Two New Books about Dragonflies and Damselflies
by Ro Wauer

For anyone who has ever been curious about dragonflies and damselflies, two exceptional books on these amazing creatures have been published this summer. And they are very different. One offers a marvelous review of the world of odonates (dragonflies and damselflies), and the second is a field guide of sorts to all the odonates that occur in Texas and adjacent states.

The first of these - "A Dazzle of Dragonflies" by Forrest Mitchell and James Lasswell (Texas A&M Press) - is a large, beautiful book that contains well-written information about dragonfly natural history, prehistory, and folklore. It also provides instructions on catching, collecting, photographing, and scanning odonates, as well as tips on creating a water garden to attract them. The abundant photos are exceptional, and the numerous other images, such as various wing patterns, eyes, and abdomens, are the result of scanning. Surprisingly effective! Appendices A and B offer information of a dragonfly website - - and "Colloquial Names of Dragonflies." The webpage can be used as an excellent tool for dragonfly identification. And the book, "A Dazzle of Dragonflies," is well worth the price ($39.95) and makes for an excellent gift book.

The second book - "Dragonflies and Damselflies of Texas and the South-Central United States" by John Abbott - is even more exciting to me. Finally, here is a book that contains all 178 dragonflies and 85 damselflies known for Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. Although this book does not include the abundant color photos located adjacent to the pertinent text, it does include one to several images of each species on 64 clumped pages. It also is full of pen-and-ink drawings depicting various structural features.

The text itself is very well done. Size, regional distribution with an up-to-date range map, general distribution, flight season, identification, similar species, habitat, discussion, and references are included for each species. For instance, in discussing the eastern pondhawk, a common dragonfly of South Texas, the authors point out that it flies "year-round" and is common along our various river drainages, including the Guadalupe, Nueces, and San Antonio, and describes it as possessing a green face, clear wings, and an abdomen that is "black with green dorsolateral spots.." In the discussion, Abbott mentions that it inhabits "almost any slow-moving body of water, they are often found around plants on the water surface, such as water lilies, lotus, and duckweed, where males patrol their territories."

There also is a key to the families that I found easy to use once the physical features (included on three pages of sketches) were understood. The odonate families included broad-winged damsels, spreadwings, threadtails, pond damsels, petaltails, clubtails, spiketails, darners, skimmers, and emeralds and cruisers. I find that odonate family and species names are marvelous. How about jewelwings, rubyspots, dancers, bluets, darners, dashers, and gliders?

Approximately 5,500 species of odonates are known worldwide, with 435 of them in North America north of Mexico. They are considered some of the most ancient of all insects; fossil odonates are some 250 million years old, and some had a wingspan of two feet. Only recently, perhaps in the last couple years, has interest in odonates increased with people beyond the professional entomologists. Like the hobby of butterflying, and birding long before that, the interest in odonates has become a significant hobby in recent years. In fact, an annual dragonfly festival is now held at Weslaco in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

These two books, especially Abbott's "Dragonflies and Damselflies of Texas and the South-Central United States," published in 2005 by Princeton University Press, will undoubtedly enhance the hobby even more.

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