Semper Fidelis - Semper Discentes

Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (and West)

In Books on April 9, 2013 at 1:48 pm

When I first became interested in dragonflies and damselflies in 2009, one of the very first books I bought was Dennis Paulson’s Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West.  As I was living in Missouri, the book BARELY covered the species I was accustomed to seeing, and I was delighted when his Eastern guide came out a couple of years later.  Now that we’re moving to Wyoming, I expect to be using the Western book more and more.

IF I COULD OWN ONLY ONE ODONATE BOOK, IT WOULD BE ONE OF THESE GUIDES.  Here’s the review I wrote for Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East,when I received it in 2012.  Go out and buy one of these volumes.  You will not be sorry.

I’ve been waiting for nearly a year for the release of Dr. Dennis Paulson’s Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, a companion volume to his 2009 edition on species of the western United States.  I’ve never met Dennis “in person”, but he has become a valued Internet Friend, always ready to lend assistance to my floundering efforts and to answer my often banal questions.  He’s retired from the University of Puget Sound, somewhere WAY up in the State of Washington, and is one of the top “Dragonfly Guys” in the country.

I got a notice from Amazon last week, letting me know that my copy had been shipped; however, delivery services are rather slow here in the Missouri Ozarks.  I kept myself busy “tracking” the package on their website, and was delighted to learn, early this afternoon, that the book had finally arrived at our local postoffice.

Since our rural mailcarrier loads up his truck early each morning, finally delivering my mail around 4 PM, I knew that it would be late tomorrow before I got to open my parcel.  Therefore, I leaped into the Jeep, the Best Dog in the World, my faithful Boston terrier, Dobby, at my side, and sped into Mansfield to the post office.  Cathy, the postmistress (is that politically correct?  Whatever.) saw me coming, and knew why I was there.  “Got your book right here”, she said, retrieving it from the Postal Bowels (might be a better simile, but I’m in a hurry).  Tina, the postal clerk, is usually the one who takes care of my Entomological Postal Business; however, she was nowhere in sight.

“Do you know what this is?”, I asked.  “I’ll bet Tina could guess”.  Cathy thought for a moment.  “It’s gotta be a book, and I know it’s something odd.  Frogs?”

“NO!!!!” I shouted gleefully, ripping off the packaging right there on the counter, “Bugs!!!”  She looked at the cover and smiled.  “Dragonflies and damselflies.  That’s cool.”  “If I may say so myself,” I replied, “I probably know MORE about dragonflies and damselflies that ANYONE ELSE in ALL of Douglas County, Missouri.”  “Does anybody else know anything about them?”  “Probably not.”

“So, are the female dragonflies called ‘damselflies’?”  I started to laugh, then realized, “That’s a pretty good question.”  I then gave her the brief speech on the difference, before racing home to loll in the tub with the book.

You really NEED this book!

I own a well-thumbed copy of Dennis’s western book, and was curious as to whether he’d just taken the information from the older book, updated it a bit with maps of the eastern U.S., then foisted it on an unsuspecting public.  I’ve used the western book a lot.  Although it technically doesn’t cover anything east of Kansas and Oklahoma, there’s a lot of overlap, and the information has been most useful.

After an hour’s perusal, I’ve decided this is NOT a rehash of the western book, but a completely reworked edition, with substantially more information, and much more (to my eyes) user-friendly. 

I’ve been chasing, collecting, TRYING to identify, and documenting odonates for about three years now.  In the case of damselflies, I’ve finally gotten to the point where I am semi-reliable in identifying the broadwings and pond damsels quickly down to genus (haven’t had much contact with spreadwings–the other category–yet), although my efforts to determine species are usually painful to watch.  This new book points out differences in a very helpful way, as typified by the following entry from the section on the Dusky dancer (Argia translata):

Western guide (2009):  “No other dancer, or pond damsel for that matter, has blue on abdomen tip exactly as male of this species.”  Helpful, I suppose, but how close is “exactly”?

Eastern guide (2011):  “No other dancer…has abdomen almost entirely dark in male.  Limited blue on abdomen tip not shared by any other species.”  This is what I need to know, and this edition covers ALL of Missouri, as well as Arkansas and Louisiana, two other states where I often find myself swinging a net!!!

The book, like its predecessor, is beautifully written and illustrated, and I’m already going through it, marking it up with a highlighter, so that the important field marks will jump out at me.

Dennis has done a splendid job with Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East.  Sort of a Robert E. Lee‘s Birthday present to myself.

It would be just great if I could talk him into coming down from Washington state and spending a week with us down here in the holler.  Bet I could learn some stuff.  I’d even drive him around and keep him fed and well-hydrated.

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