Friday 5: My Field Guide Wish List

Moving across the country has been a big adventure and one that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed so far.  However, there are some downsides.  The biggest one for me is that my western field guides are rather worthless in my new home.  The insects on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains are quite different compared to the insects from the other side.  That’s good.  It’s really fun seeing all the new things and I am enjoying learning about the local species.  However, it would be great to have field guides appropriate for this part of the country as I explore the local terrestrial insects, just to make field identifications of unfamiliar species a little easier.  So, I’ve created a wishlist of insect field guides that I want to buy over the next few months.   They include:

Dragonflies and Damselflies of Georgia and the Southeast by Giff Beaton

Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East was the one and only eastern field guide I purchased before I moved to North Carolina and I love it as much as I loved the corresponding book for the west.  However, I am a firm believer that I can never have too many dragonfly books!  We have this book at work and I really like it because it focuses entirely on the species of the southeast and leaves out the things you only find in Canada and New England.  I have several copies available for my use at work, but I think I need a copy for home too.  It will look awfully good with all the other dragonfly books on my shelf, and I’ve already found it useful.

Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David Wagner

I’ve wanted this book since it was first released, but there never seemed to be a point in actually buying it.  There will always be some species that cross the east-west boundary, but why would I need a book on eastern caterpillars in the west?  Well, now I live in the east and I suddenly have a use for this book.  Yay!  I can’t wait to get it!  I know next to nothing about caterpillar identification, but I’m working at a field station/outdoor education center.  People like to visit the garden and ask questions about the butterflies and I find myself needing to learn my caterpillars for the first time ever.  I think this book would be a great way to get started, so it’s at the very top of my wishlist.

Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America by David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie

This book is tailored to the northeast rather than the southeast, but the moth people I’ve interacted with in North Carolina so far tell me that it’s still one of the best guides for local species.  North Carolina is an interesting place because it’s got an incredibly rich diversity of geologies and habitat types, so we get a nice mixture of northern and southern species here.  The northern moth book is supposed to be great for many of the moths here.  It just doesn’t cover the species that stretch up into North Carolina from the south.  Maybe someone will eventually write a companion book for the southeast?

Field Guide to Freshwater Invertebrates of North America by James Thorp and Christopher Rogers

This book isn’t geared toward the eastern US specifically, but it’s one I haven’t had a chance to purchase yet and am really excited about getting.  I’ve flipped through it a few times and it’s a great book.  It’s simple enough that I think it is an excellent guide for people just starting to learn about freshwater insects, crustaceans, worms, and other invertebrates.  However, it’s got enough detail that I feel like it has some meat to it too.  Most other aquatic invertebrate fields guides out there are either quite old and outdated or not detailed enough for my taste, so this book is a welcome future addition to my library.

National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America by Arthur Evans and Craig Tufts

An all-purpose insect field guide can come in really handy now and again.  I have a few general guides already, but I’m always on the lookout for more.  This is the one I want the most.  I really like the way Art Evans writes and he is incredibly knowledgeable about insects, so I trust that the information in this book is good.  The people I know who have it all seem to like it too, which I consider a good sign.  This book combines lovely photos and great information, so what’s not to love?  And just look at the mantid on the cover!  I fully intend to judge this book by its cover.  :)

That’s about half of my wishlist so far.  Does anyone want to recommend any other insect books with a southeastern US focus?  A lot of you probably know more about the great field guides in this part of the country than I do, so I welcome any suggestions!  Leave your recommendations in the comments below.


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Where to look for dragonfly identification information

A lot of the people who have sent me dragonfly swarm reports have expressed an interest in identifying the dragonflies they’re seeing in their yards.  I think this warrants a post on where to find information about dragonfly identification!  Today I’ll cover some of the books I really love and some of the best online resources you can use.  I’ll also tell you what you can do if you’re stuck and need the advice of an expert to help you figure out the dragonflies that you’ve seen.  I’m a scientist, so I have a lot of technical books that I can use to help me identify dragonfly species very precisely using a microscope and other special tools, but this post is meant to help people who are not dragonfly experts to find accessible information.  I hope you will find this useful!

Dragonflies Through Binoculars cover

I am a huge book lover, so I personally turn to books whenever I want to ID a dragonfly or damselfly that I’ve seen.  I have several favorites, but I use two over and over again because they are so thorough and include ALL of the species in a particular area.  Dragonflies Through Binoculars by Sidney Dunkle is a great source of information about the North American dragonflies.  It includes photos, descriptions, distribution maps, and flight dates for each of the species.  It also does a great job of highlighting the distinguishing characteristics so you can tell species apart even if they are very similar in appearance.  This is a great book and I always take it with me when I travel.  The only downsides are that the book doesn’t include the damselflies and it it now 10 years old, so some of the information might be slightly out of date.  The book I turn to again and again when I want to have all of the dragonflies and damselflies in one place is Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West by Dennis Paulson.  This book shares all of the great features of Dunkle’s book, but it is is newer and includes the damselflies.  I LOVE the behavioral information in this book!  However, if you live outside of the western part of the US and Canada, this book isn’t going to be as useful.   Luckily, dragonflies are popular, so there are a lot of great resources out there!  Your best bet is getting on Amazon and searching for either dragonfly or odonata and your state or country.  There are tons of local guides available, so it’s definitely worth looking for one for your area!

odonata central screen capture

There are several great online resources, but I am particularly fond of Odonata Central.  Odonata Central is an amazing website!  It include up-to-date information about flight seasons, distributions, characteristics, etc.  Even if you know nothing about the dragonflies you’re seeing, Odonata Central is an excellent resource.  For example, to see a list of every species in your area, you can click on the checklist link at the top of the page.  The website will guide you to your location (in the US, you can get information for your county) and a list of all of the species in your area will appear.  You’ll also see links for photos, maps, and information about each species on the list.  By clicking through the images and reading the descriptions, you will likely be able to identify the species in your area.  The best part: this works for almost any location, including areas outside of North America.

Many, many people (including Odonata Central) have photo galleries of dragonflies online and simply scrolling through photos can take you a long way toward identifying the species you see in your area.  I love the Digital Dragonfly website’s image gallery, though not all American species are included.  Because I live in southern Arizona, I also frequently check websites such as Arizona Odonates and California Dragonflies and Damselflies for photos and identification information.   To find websites with information about your local dragonflies and damselflies, check out the links page at Ode News or the links page at Odonata Central.  They both have comprehensive lists of good, reliable information available online.

Bug Guide screen capture

If, after you have tried the field guides and scrolled through photo galleries, you just can’t decide whether your dragonfly is a neon skimmer or a flame skimmer, where can you turn?  There are two great resources available at your disposal.  The first is BugGuide.  In addition to great photo galleries, you can also submit photos of dragonflies or damselflies and request an ID.  Bug Guide is a network of insect and spider enthusiasts who volunteer their time helping people ID bugs they’ve seen.  When you submit an ID request, one of the many Bug Guide users will likely know which species you’ve seen an give you an ID!  To get the most specific response, take a photo of at least the back and the side of the dragonfly or damselfly as clearly as you can because the characteristics that distinguish species are most often in these areas.  Then upload your photos to the Bug Guide by clicking ID Request at the top of the page and following the instructions.  Most people get responses to their inquiries within a few days.

Did you know that there are entomologists all over the US trained to help non-entomologists identify insects?  Land grant universities are often required to maintain research collections of various groups of organisms (including insects, snakes, fish, crustaceans, plants, etc) and to provide outreach to the public.  If you have a land grant university in your area, you likely have someone who can help you ID insects and provide information about them at the university.   The Cooperative Extension service is the main outreach component of most land grant universities and nearly every county in the US has an office.  The Cooperative Extension service employs a large number of entomologists, so give your county office a call!  If your county’s entomologist can’t ID a dragonfly for you, he or she likely knows a person who can.  And finally, Odonata Central maintains a member directory that includes many dragonfly experts and/or enthusiasts around the world.  If you click on View All at the top of the page and search for your location, you might be able to find a odonatologist nearby who can answer your dragonfly ID questions and give you more information about your local species.  That said, tracking down their contact info might not be easy in every case.

As I said earlier, dragonflies are very popular insects, so there are tons of resources available!  In fact, the volume of information available can be overwhelming if you don’t know where to begin.  Hopefully, this post will direct you to the best resources available and make it as easy as possible to figure out which dragonfly species you’ve been seeing.  Good luck!

I’m getting away from dragonflies for the next few posts, but check back near the end of October for a summary of the results of my dragonfly swarm data collection effort this summer.  I’ve collected more reports than I ever thought I would, so it should be an interesting read!


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2010