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John C. Abbott
Princeton University Press Princeton, NJ
2005, 424 pp.
Price: $35.00, Paperbound, ISBN: 0-691-11364-5
$79.50, Clothbound, ISBN: 0-691-11363-7
Ten years ago, Minter Westfall and I finally published The Damselflies of North America, a project to which he had by then devoted 40 years (Westfall and May 1996). At the time, except for small volumes on Florida (Dunkle 1989, 1990) and Cape Cod (Carpenter 1991), no up-to-date and easily accessible treatment of the Odonata of North America was available. In the subsequent decade, a veritable flowering of interest and information has burst on the scene—a result, probably, of the growing number of bird watchers and butterfly enthusiasts who came to realize that there are more things to watch and marvel at than had previously been dreamt of in their philosophy. Whether our rather wordy and academic tome gave any impetus to this phenomenon, I won’t presume to say, but certainly a bounty of references, many sumptuously illustrated and intended at least in part to aid field identification, now exists. Some notable examples include Dunkle (2000), Curry (2001), Glotzhober and McShaffrey (2002), Manolis (2003), Nikula et al. (2003), and Lam (2004).
One might suppose that by now, all that could be said about Odonata has been said, but this new volume fills an important gap in the literature. The south-central states, as delimited here encompass a very large area, much of which has received comparatively little attention from odonatologists until quite recently. It includes parts of 10 biotic provinces, extending from the swamps and marshes of the Mississippi Delta to the Rocky Mountains in northern New Mexico. Its long southern border with Mexico includes most of the Rio Grande and reaches almost to the Sonoran Desert in southwestern New Mexico. Consequently, the odonate fauna in this book includes elements from the Southeast, the Great Plains, and the Far West, and it is enriched by a substantial list of Mexican species that is almost unique within previous volumes on the Odonata. This scope presents Abbott with the challenge and opportunity to guide the novice through a thicket of female forktails (Ischnura sp.) and introduce even the experienced entomologist to what are likely to be many unfamiliar taxa.
This book clearly rises to the challenge. It is part of the well-regarded Princeton Field Guides series and is nicely produced, with few typographical or editorial errors. Like most “field guides,” it is actually a bit large for optimal field use, but nevertheless it slips easily into a small backpack. My paperback copy appears durable, although I’m not sure how it would withstand an accidental dive into a muddy river. The layout is pleasing and readable, and the reproduction of graphics, including line art, halftones, and color, is excellent. The last is particularly important, because the color photographs will undoubtedly be the portion of the book that many readers turn to first, as an identification aid and for sheer enjoyment.
A few flaws exist, of course. Females of Zygoptera and Anisoptera often pose greater identification problems than males. The mesostigmal plates of Zygoptera are extensively illustrated, but in one or two cases, the drawings give a slightly misleading impression of their three-dimensional structure (the representation of which is a difficult task, to be sure). For the Anisoptera suborder, more extensive illustration of the vulvar laminae of Gomphidae, Corduliidae, and Libellulidae would have been helpful; although often not visible in the field, these structures can be essential to proper identification in faded preserved specimens. Finally, as noted by Donnelly (2005), the species of Stylogomphus found in the area of coverage is not S. albistylus, but the recently described S. sigmastylus.
The organization of the work is conventional but appropriate, with a short, well illustrated introduction that covers the general biology, biogeography, essential morphological features, and methods of study of odonates. The great bulk of the text, some 280 pages, is devoted to fairly detailed treatment of each of the 243 species known from the region, along with brief introductory remarks, emphasizing the regional fauna, about each family and genus. Each species account includes sections giving dimensions, regional and general distribution, flight season in the region, identification features and a comparison with similar species, very brief habitat notes, a short discussion of behavior and notable biological features, and a list of three or four pertinent references. One might wish that the treatment of habitat and behavior were more detailed, but for many species little more of substance is known. In a few cases, the morphological descriptions seem a bit more extensive than the aim of the book requires, but in general, these are succinct and to the point.
Three other features accompanying the descriptions deserve special mention. First, simplified keys to families, genera, and species supplement the descriptions and pictures. Second, line drawings of most crucial features, including the male terminalia, are abundant and clear. Despite the features that allow recognition of many Odonata on the wing, many species require closer examination in the hand for reliable identification, and the keys and figures provide the wherewithal. Third, small but detailed and yet quite readable maps indicate distributions within the region to the level of county. The verbal treatment of regional distribution supplements this by listing biotic provinces and watersheds, maps of which are provided in the introduction. Together, these complementary presentations of distribution effectively provide detailed, visually accessible, and biologically meaningful information.
Another strength of this volume, as I mentioned earlier, is the abundance of very good color photographs. Nearly all species are represented, many by multiple pictures to show sexual and chromatic differences, except for four species discovered while the book was in press, which are given only brief accounts. One consequence of the number of photos and the page format is that each picture is rather small, but the choice of pictures, judicious cropping, and excellent production values have resulted in clear and usable, often beautiful, images. In conjunction with the other aids provided, these images will allow for ready identification of the vast majority of specimens encountered. Overall, Abbott has produced an outstanding contribution that will be an important addition to the libraries of amateur and professional entomologists interested in Odonata.
Curry, J. R. 2001.Dragonflies of Indiana. Indiana Academy of Science, Indianapolis.
Carpenter, V. 1991. Dragonflies and Damselflies of Cape Cod. Cape Cod. Museum of Natural History, Series 4, Brewster, MA.
Donnelly, T. W. 2005. Book review: Dragonflies and Damselflies of Texas and the South-Central States. Argia 17(2): 18–19.
Dunkle, S. W. 1989.Dragonflies of the Florida peninsula, Bermuda, and the Bahamas. Nature Guide 1. Scientific Publishers, Gainesville, FL.
Dunkle, S. W. 1990.Damselflies of Florida, Bermuda, and the Bahamas. Nature Guide 3. Scientific Publishers, Gainesville, FL.
Dunkle, S. W. 2000.Dragonflies through binoculars, a field guide to dragonflies of North America. Oxford University Press, New York.
Glotzhober, R. C., and D. McShaffrey. 2002.The dragonflies and damselflies of Ohio. Ohio Biological Survey, Columbus.
Lam, E. 2004.Damselflies of the Northeast. Biodiversity Books, Forest Hills, NY.
Manolis, T. 2003.Dragonflies and damselflies of California. University of California Press, Berkeley.
Nikula, B., J. L. Loose, and M. R. Burne. 2003.A field guide to dragonflies and damselflies of Massachusetts. Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, Boston.
Westfall, M. J., and M. L. May. 1996.Damselflies of North America. Scientific Publishers, Gainesville, FL.
Department of Entomology
New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8524
Vol. 52, No.4, Winter 2006