Dragonflies & Damselflies in the Hand

23 November 2011

Dragonflies & Damselflies in the Hand: An Identification Guide to Boreal Forest Odonates in Saskatchewan and Adjacent Regions
by G. Hutchings and D. Halstead
Published by Nature Saskatchewan
Review by Colette Wheler
$24.95 ISBN 978-0-921104-25-4

Nymphs, sedge sprites, meadowhawks, and jewelwings – these may sound like characters from a new fantasy novel, but they’re actually real life creatures from this special publication made possible by Nature Saskatchewan. Part field guide and part natural history, this 158 page softcover book is full of fascinating facts about dragonflies and damselflies, which together are known as odonates. Authors Gord Hutchings and Dave Halstead share their extensive knowledge, admiration, and spectacular photographs of the 49 species of dragonflies and damselflies found in the western boreal forest, an area covering the northern parts of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and a small bit of British Columbia.

The book begins with a general overview of how odonates live, behave, feed, and reproduce, including an impressive account of their flying abilities – not only can they hover and fly backwards, they can reach speeds up to 35 km/h! Helpful tips are given on where and when to find these insects and how to safely “catch and release” them to make a positive identification or take a photograph. Easy-to-use sets of descriptions, called dichotomous keys, help identify the insect through a process of elimination, and first teach the reader the difference between a dragonfly and a damselfly. Identification to the family level and finally to genus and species follows, allowing the reader to go into as much detail as they wish. Over 100 high-quality photographs, 26 figures, and 6 plates illustrate the various features that distinguish one brightly-coloured odonate from another.

In addition to introducing the reader to these intriguing aerodynamic insects, the authors also speak about their value as indicators of wetland health, since the aquatic larvae can live in bodies of water for up to 4 years before emerging as the conspicuous adults we typically see zooming about in pursuit of mosquitoes and other prey. From a practical point, this small, lightweight book is made to be taken into the field, and is equipped with a handy ruler on the back cover to help in measuring dragonfly and damselfly body length.

These remarkable creatures have been around in their present form for over 300 million years, pre-dating dinosaurs, and their persistence and beauty are sure to captivate beginners and seasoned biologists alike, making this book a welcome addition to any field guide collection.


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