04 November 2012

A Bit Distracted

Our 2012 field season was much abbreviated compared to a normal year.  Thus, we've had few (no) posts since July.  This was due to the activities involved with buying a house with acreage in rural Washtenaw County, Michigan. 

The property contains a good variety of habitats: conifers patches, hedgerows, grass lawn, old field, a seeded prairie (as of this fall), wet woods with vernal pools, and upland woods. 

Here's a view of a portion of the wet woods:

Unfortunately, we don't have a stream or large pond, but these features are present in the vicinity.  We did add all small water feature near the house that will likely be more attractive to thirsty or bathing birds.  We'll add some plants and may add a small pond to the feature in 2013.

There was one aquatic insect visitor prior to the frosts of fall.  This backswimmer (Notonecta irrorata)  showed up in October. A locust leave is next to it for a size comparison:

Given the little/no time for dragonfly hunting in the latter half of the summer, we did have one great discovery prior to the final purchase.  Back in June, while doing a walk around the property, we found the exuvia of a male Swamp Darner (Epiaeschna heros).  This is only one of two specimens we know of for Michigan.  It's unknown how often this species can successfully overwinter in our state.

2013 will be a year with more time available for exploring, although we'll do more hunting around our property since we have a great interest in documenting the flora and fauna of all varieties.  Our overall odonata list may be reduced, and we'll post some of the other bugs found around here.

Given the changes, maybe we'll need to change our name to Rural Dragon Hunters? 

03 October 2012

Waiting on a "Friend"

On Sunday, July 8th, I decided to add Red Saddlebags (Tramea onusta) for Lenawee County since this is a year when this species has moved north in huge numbers.  Almost anyplace you find Black Saddlebags (T. lacerata) you have a good chance to see the smaller red cousin which acts like it wants to dominate the water's surface.

I ended up at a future business park outside of Tecumseh.  Roads were completed, but no businesses, yet.  The weedy fields provided upland areas for a variety of insects and birds such as: Vesper and Savannah Sparrows.  A large water retention basin provided habitat for a good variety of odes.  Almost immediately upon my arrival a Red Saddlebags (T. onusta) flew past just out of the net's reach.

A breeze was present so I positioned myself on the downwind side of the pond in hopes that sparring dragonflies would get pushed within reach of my net.   Unfortunately, there was no vegetation surrounding the basin so I couldn't conceal my presence... and the odes seemed to know why I was present.  Several individuals of T. onusta flew past, always out of the reach of my net.  Of course, the incline of the pool's edge prevented me from wading in.  The mud and steep slope would be too slippery.

Over the next hour, I walked the entire perimeter at least twice, but the total distance was likely four times that.  The best chances for capture occurred when a coupled pair worked against the breeze and other bachelors wanted in on the action.  However, they always were pushed towards the middle of the pond.

Later in the afternoon, I was making one last trip near the northern edge and an individual "checked me out".  This allowed me to "check him out":

29 July 2012

NMW: Red-fringed Emerald

It's National Moth Week, and while Urban Dragon Hunters is primarily about dragonflies, we are keen on many other insect taxa as well. Why not try to feature a cool moth every day this week?

We'll finish off the week with one of the beautiful emeralds. This is a Red-fringed or Two-striped Emerald (Nemoria bistriaria, Hodges #7046). Who doesn't love a green moth? Never mind that this species has a brown spring form. BugGuide even has an interesting intermediate form; the scale colors are apparently influenced by pre-emergence temperatures.

Photo by Darrin O'Brien. All rights reserved.

28 July 2012

NMW: Buck moth

It's National Moth Week, and while Urban Dragon Hunters is primarily about dragonflies, we are keen on many other insect taxa as well. Why not try to feature a cool moth every day this week?

Day 6 is yet another diurnal moth, a buck moth (Hemileuca sp., likely H. nevadensis, Hodges#7731, as there were larvae feeding on willows). Buck moths are in the silkworm moth family (Saturniidae), and while not quite a spectacular as many of their relatives, are still quite showy. The caterpillars have urticating spines -- they sting, although the punch varies by species.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has a nice post about the possible origin of the name "buck moth" and the taxonomy morass that occurs in here in the upper Midwest.

Photo by Darrin O'Brien. All rights reserved.

27 July 2012

NMW: Carrot Seed Moth

It's National Moth Week, and while Urban Dragon Hunters is primarily about dragonflies, we are keen on many other insect taxa as well. Why not try to feature a cool moth every day this week?

Day 5's moth is one that is not native to North America. The Carrot Seed Moth, a.k.a., Greenish-Yellow Sitochroa Moth (Sitochroa palealis, Hodges #4986.1) is a European/Palearctic moth first recorded on this side of the pond in the Upper Midwest in 2002. The larvae feed on umbellifers, especially the well-established non-native Queen Anne's Lace or wild carrot, Daucus carota. The caterpillars are more conspicuous than the ordinary-looking adults, as they weave themselves into the seed heads of the plants; they can be found by searching for these frass baskets.

Photo by Julie Craves, all rights reserved.

26 July 2012

NMW: Chestnut-marked Pondweed Moth

It's National Moth Week, and while Urban Dragon Hunters is primarily about dragonflies, we are keen on many other insect taxa as well. Why not try to feature a cool moth every day this week?

Day 4's little beauty is a Chestnut-marked Pondweed Moth (Parapoynx badiusalis, Hodges #4761). In addition to being pretty, the larvae of this moth have an unusual lifestyle -- they are aquatic. They feed on pondweed (Potamogeton). You can read more about them (and see this photo again!) in a blog post I recently wrote for Audubon Guides, "The Moth that Came from the River."

Photo by Julie Craves. All rights reserved.

25 July 2012

NMW: Carpenterworm moth

It's National Moth Week, and while Urban Dragon Hunters is primarily about dragonflies, we are keen on many other insect taxa as well. Why not try to feature a cool moth every day this week?

For Day 3, we don't have a photo of an adult moth, but only the shell of a couple of pupae. Note the ruler in the photo -- those are centimeters. These empty pupae were extracted from holes in the base of a hardwood tree that were at least the diameter of my thumb.  They belong to Prionoxystus robiniae, the Carpenterworm Moth (Hodges #2693).

The larvae of these moths take two to four years to mature into caterpillars up to three inches long.  As you may have gathered, they feed on the sapwood of trees. I was fascinated by them, and wrote a post on another blog at the time I found them. For the curious, here is what the adults look like.

Photo by Julie Craves. All rights reserved.

24 July 2012

NMW: Squash Vine Borer

It's National Moth Week, and while Urban Dragon Hunters is primarily about dragonflies, we are keen on many other insect taxa as well. Why not try to feature a cool moth every day this week?

Day 2 features one of the many borer moths which are wasp, hornet, or bee mimics (and are thus diurnal). I have a thing for flies that are mimics, and while most moths aren't quite as convincing, they are still pretty cool. This species is the latest I've photographed; it's a Squash Vine Borer (Melittia cucurbitae). As the name indicates, the larvae feed only on Cucurbita. They are especially fond of pumpkins and zucchini, and can be quite a pest of these and related crops. I grow none of these, so this one was welcome in the yard, nectaring on milkweed.

Photo by Julie Craves. All rights reserved.

23 July 2012

NMW: Orange Mint Moth

It's National Moth Week, and while Urban Dragon Hunters is primarily about dragonflies, we are keen on many other insect taxa as well. Why not try to feature a cool moth every day this week?

First up is this Orange Mint Moth (Pyrasuta orphisalis, Hodges #5058). This widespread crambid moth is very small, about the size of a pinky fingernail. It is on mountain mint, Pycnanthemum, and we didn't see them in the yard until we started planting a lot of this genus to attract pollinators. Given the common name, perhaps this isn't surprising, although The Butterflies and Moths of North America gives Monarda (bee balm) and savory (Satureja ?) as their host plant.

Photo by Julie Craves, all rights reserved.

07 July 2012

A Plethora of Anax Exuviae

As noted previously, I've been collecting specimens for the Stable Isotope Analysis project which focuses on Common Green Darners (Anax junius).  This project has a need to collect adults early in the season and mid-season which may help show where the migratory portion of the population moves.  Additionally, exuviae (i.e. the larval skin) are collected which give a more definitive baseline location for the isotope feedback since the larvae don't migrate.  However, finding exuviae can be difficult, but with a proper search image it is possible.

On June 24th, I checked a pond at Lower Huron Metropark (Wayne County) where I've seen good numbers of darner exuviae in past years.  Once again, I found the distinctive skins on dead cattail stalks about 1/2 to 2 feet above the waterline, primarily on the south edge of the pond.  Using my net to coax the delicate skins off the vegetation, I was able to collect 8 exuviae.  While doing this, I had several Common Green Darners (A. junius) and two or three of the uncommon Comet Darner (A. longipes) flying around my net.  Of course, they wouldn't do this if I was prepared to swing.

I didn't attempt to ID the species of the exuviae and had just assumed they were A. junius.  At home, I examined them under magnification and found 7 of the 8 to be A. longipes!  Only one A. junius for the project (in the vial).  ;^(

On June 27th, during my lunch hour, I checked a retention pond of an abandoned subdivision in Novi (Oakland County) that is ringed by cattails.  I began searching for exuviae and spied several darner skins along the south edge of the pond (I don't know if there is anything significant about this).  While collecting with my net again, I had multiple A. junius and a single A. longipes fly by.  This day's collection included 6 exuviae of A. junius.  This is a photo of a Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata) exuvia at the same location:

On July 4th, I returned to the Lower Huron Metropark pond and found 2 A. junius exuviae in the 30 minutes I had to search.  Of course, I had male and female A. longipes flying around, in addition to a few A. junius

The number of Comet Darners (A. longipes) this year is amazing to me.  The first voucher for MI was a nymph in Livingston County in 1996.  It was some years later before the next vouchers were obtained. Julie and I obtained the first county records for Lenawee (2003), Wayne (2007), and Oakland (2007).  Of course, others have observed this species flying in additional locations, but it seems the numbers have "exploded" in the past few years. Finding so many exuviae of this species at one location as noted above is interesting.  Could it have been influenced by mild (or nonexistent) winter we experienced in 2011/12?

28 June 2012

Bring on the Saddlebags

In the previous post, I noted a reddish-colored saddlebags (Tramea sp.).  In the next couple of days I saw an online posting about the large number of Red Saddlebags (Tramea onusta) in Minnesota, and then a report of Striped Saddlebags (T. calverti) also in Minnesota!

On 6/23, I headed to Pte. Mouillee SGA again in hopes of finding saddlebags.  (It would be good to find the second state record for T. calvertiIt was a windier day compared to my last trip to Pte. Moo in Monroe County.  The dragonflies were less abundant on the levees and they were likely in areas sheltered by the wind.  However, I was looking for saddlebags (Tramea sp.) which will still be found flying out in the open with a stiff breeze.  I had walked about half the distance of the previous visit and only saw a few large odes, but then a reddish saddlebags flew past and I followed it down another side levee. 

The good thing about a stiff breeze is that the odes will generally be slowed when flying against the wind, and that makes netting them much easier.  While watching the flight path of this individual, I was able to align myself near some vegetation and swing at an opportune time.  Having the dragonfly in hand made the identification much easier of this uncommon species for Michigan.  It was a male Red Saddlebags (T. onusta) and a new early record for the state:



Note the protruding hamules, black limited to dorsal side of S8 & S9, and reddish frons (forehead).   A Carolina Saddlebags (T. carolina) has reduced hamules, black down onto the sides of S8 & S9, and purplish frons.

This hike involved many fewer mayflies, but the deer flies were in much greater abundance and a greater annoyance since they bite. 

I continued down this levee in the Nelson Unit and found many (10+) saddlebags working the downwind side of the vegetation.  There were even two coupled pairs of T. onusta.

Once I reached a small patch of trees, the sheltered area was flush with Blue Dashers (P. longipennis), Common Green Darners (A. junius), Black Saddlebags (T. lacerata), and a couple Spot-winged Gliders (P. hymenaea). 

Here is a female Spot-winged Glider:

After leaving the Monroe County portion of the SGA, I went north to the Wayne County side with is also the headquarters.  While checking a couple of the open fields, I found another coupled pair of Red Saddlebags (T. onusta)!

Anyone along the Lake Erie area should be on the lookout for the reddish saddlebags this summer.  It's possible one could turn up these uncommon to rare species.

25 June 2012

Lord of the Mayflies

Mid-June seems to be a good time to look for Cobra Clubtail (Gomphus vastus) in Michigan.  I decided to check the Huron River mouth area at the edge of Lake Erie on June 17th.  A county park (Riverside) and state game area (Pte. Mouillee) are located at this boundary of Wayne and Monroe Counties.  There are plenty of perching areas for the clubtail, but I'm not sure if the habitat (water quality, flow, etc.) are appropriate.

Knowing my time was limited due to an approaching storm front, I quickly checked the Wayne County areas with no luck, and the winds picked up from the SE.  I then headed over to the Nelson Unit on the Monroe County side.  The levees provide decent areas that are sheltered from a southerly wind, and there is plenty of riprap and driftwood for dragonfly perches.  (Why didn't I take any photos of this?)

I picked along the downwind edge, but no luck finding any gomphids.  (I'll have check up the Detroit River in the future).  However, these areas at Pte. Moo were loaded with 1000s of Blue Dashers (Pachydiplax longipennis) and 100s of Halloween Pennants (Celithemis eponina).  Here is a dorsal view of one male pennant:

I flushed one reddish-colored saddlebags (Tramea sp.), but couldn't get an ID.  There was also one male Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea).  My first for the year:

While wandering the levees, the mayflies (Order Ephemeroptera) kept landing on my arms and net.  I decided to take a non-flattering photo at the end of the hot, sweaty hike to show at least sixteen hitchhikers:

... and this was after I had picked many off my arms and chest.  There were more than a dozen on my pack too.

24 June 2012

Exuvia and Adult of a big darner

On May 26th, I was out looking for specimens for the stable isotope project in Wayne County.  Maybe I'd find some flying Common Green Darners (Anax junius) or new exuviae for this species.

Stopping at a favorite pond where I've found multiples of the species in past years, I found no adults and then spied an exuvia on a cattail.  With my net, I was able to coax it off the vegetation.  When in the hand it became apparent that this wasn't A. junius, but A. longipes.  A nice find for the day!

Three weeks later, on June 16th, I visited the same pond and found an adult Comet Darner (A. longipes) patrolling the edge.

Could this be an individual that emerged from the same pond?  I released it to make more darners for the future, but I kept the exuvia as evidence of successful breeding in Michigan.

17 June 2012

Blue Eyes are Flying

After completing my Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) route on June 9th, I decided to stop by Munson Park in Monroe, MI in hopes of finding an interesting dragonfly or two.  I was also wanting to collect a Common Green Darner (Anax junius) for the stable isotope project.

This park is unique in that it provides a small oasis in an area (and county) surrounded by highly manipulated land.  Through the years we've found a wide variety of fauna that can be difficult to observe, from birds such as Grasshopper and Henslow's Sparrows to many first county record dragonflies such as river cruisers (Macromia illinoiensis and taeniolata), Swamp Darner (Epiaeschna heros), Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans), and Citrine Forktail (Ischnura hastata).  On one occasion, I also observed a female Mocha Emerald (Somatochlora linearis). Water features (except some small ponds, agricultural ditches, and the River Raisin) supporting the diversity aren't fully evident, but there must be some variety of sufficient water quality nearby.

The day's westerly winds had increased by the time I arrived.  Thus, I wanted to check out the NE area of the park which would be sheltered by the woods and treelines.  Immediately I found darners and baskettails working the hedgerow.  One large baskettail had wing markings that were reduced.  Around here, Prince Baskettails (Epitheca princeps) typically have markings that make ID from a distance very easy.

A quick swing of the net produced this male:

Here is a photo showing the typical markings for E. princeps in SE MI:

Apparently, some populations further north will have little to no markings in the middle of the wings.

In the past, I've found the path between the prairie plantings and the woodlots to be quite productive.  The mowed area functions as a highway for the larger dragonflies such as this male Common Green Darner (Anax junius):

The width and length of the path makes it convenient to see individuals flying towards you or when flushed from perches in the trees or grass.  Within several meters a darner flew towards me at head height and I couldn't make out the species, but had assumed it to be another A. junius, until the blue eyes became apparent only a few feet away.  A lame swing over my shoulder missed this new county record. Knowing other people had observed multiple individuals in other locations of southeast Michigan this spring, I was hoping to have a chance at a second one.

Upon approaching the northern end of the path, I saw a darner rounding the corner and flying towards me at waist height.  I attempted to squat down to have a better view, and indeed, it was another Spatterdock Darner (Rhionaeschna mutata).  However, instead of flying past me, it flew towards me and jammed my possibilities to catch it in the net. (If only I had a shorter-handled net for that one!)

Eventually, a third individual was captured as it flew down the path at chest height.  Here is a male Spatterdock Darner (R. mutata) which is the first Monroe County record:

Later I was able to pose a second Spatterdock (R. mutata):

This species was quite a surprise.  As noted, I'm not sure of the location of the water feature for these to breed (fishless ponds with lilies), but there must be more species to find in and around this park... and we know there are Mocha Emeralds (S. linearis) still to be captured.

02 June 2012

Some color in Late May

After the last post, we were able to spend a good amount of time in the field over the Memorial Day weekend. 

On Saturday 5/26, after the rain storms, I checked out Lower Huron Metropark and found a few species for the first time this season.
- Azure Bluet (Enallagma aspersum) = dozens
- Orange Bluet (E. signatum) = 1 coupled pair
- Widow Skimmer (Libellua luctuosa) = ~dozen
- "reddish" Saddlebags (Tramea onusta or carolina) = 1

On Sunday 5/27, we checked out a few locations in Hines Park in the morning and were pleased to find a good population of Eastern Red Damselflies (Amphiagrion saucium).  This is only the second location where we've found them in Wayne County and this is definitely a breeding location. Here is a male:

During the afternoon, I checked a couple locations at Pte. Mouillee SGA in Monroe County and found a lot of color.
- Blue Dashers (Pachydiplax longipennis) were out in the 1000s, such as this young male:

Then there were the damselflies...
- Variable Dancers (Argia fumipennis violacea) and Rainbow Bluets (Enallagma antennatum) by the dozens:

Later in the day, a Swamp Darner (Epiaeschna heros) flew through our backyard in Dearborn.

On Monday 5/28, I checked out Maybury State Park and saw a single female Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera).

The ode season is just beginning and it's been good so far this year.  Let's see what is turned up in June.

26 May 2012

Record Early Dates in SE MI

The 2011/12 winter and 2012 spring gave us incredibly warm weather. We've seen many plants blooming early and trees leafing out. Generally, here in Wayne County the real ode season doesn't kick in until late May or early June. However, this year a great variety of dragonflies were present in early May and allowed for vouchers of some new early dates. (The notes about early dates are based on the existing data in the MOS database and doesn't include any vouchers by others in 2012)

May 6th at Crosswinds Marsh phase I in SW Wayne County 

8+ Dot-tailed Whiteface (Leucorrhinia intacta)

3 Twelve-spotted Skimmers (Libellula pulchella) : I spent an hour trying to catch one, with no luck. I do believe they are one of the more difficult common species to capture.

3 Painted Skimmers (L. semifasciata) = new early date for MI
Here is a male:

5 Common Whitetails (Plathemis lydia) = new early date for MI (However, I did see a female at our house in Dearborn the day before)
Here is a female:

May 12th at Lower Huron Metropark in Wayne County 

2 Ashy Clubtails (Gomphus lividus) = new early date for SE MI
Here is a teneral male:

8+ Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicolis) = new early date for MI
Here is a teneral female:

May 13th at Crosswinds Marsh phase I in SW Wayne County 

1 Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata) = new early date for SE MI
Here is a teneral female:

3 Twelve-spotted Skimmers (Libellula pulchella) = new early date for MI
1 Four-spotted Skimmer (L. quadrimaculata)


Unfortunately, we haven't been able to get out in the latter half of May as I would have liked. However, there were several species observed in passing:
- Marsh Bluet (Enallagma ebrium) at UM-Dearborn on 5/19
- Unicorn Clubtail (Arigomphus villosipes) at UM-Dearborn on 5/19
- Sedge Sprite (Nehalennia irene) west of Ann Arbor on 5/20
- Prince Baskettail (Epitheca princeps) west of Ann Arbor on 5/20
- Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata) in Farmington Hills on 5/25

03 May 2012

Variegated Meadowhawks in Michigan

Today during lunch, I found a single Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum) at my workplace in Farmington Hills, Michigan. I know this species has also been observed this spring in Ohio and Ontario this spring. Maybe this will the year to add this species to several Michigan County lists?

14 April 2012

First Odes of 2012

The warm weather of the 2011/12 winter and early spring brought a flurry of reports for Anax junius.

For a variety of reasons I haven't spent time in the field away from home or the campus of my workplace. Fortunately, my workplace in Farmington Hills (Oakland County) has multiple ponds on site which gives opportunities for breeding and migratory species.

On March 28th it was quite windy, but sunny. I found a female Eastern Forktail (Ischnura verticalis) perched in an area of lawn downwind of one pond. Just as I reached down to grab the early individual, a gust of wind picked her up and blew her away, not to be seen again.

My second species for the year didn't occur until two weeks later. On April 12th, a female Common Green Darner (A. junius) flew by during my lunchtime walk. Then on April 13th, I found this female perching/hunting along a sunny hedgerow:

27 March 2012

Michigan Odonata Atlas website is up

As mentioned in an earlier post, the Michigan Odonata Atlas is getting off the ground. We have a website up at http://mos-atlas.blogspot.com/. It is not entirely complete, but here are some important things you can find there:
We'll be updating the database to include 800 new records from 2011, adding county checklists, and posting our "wants" as the season progresses. Go bookmark the site today!

06 February 2012

The Face of a Scientist

This Is What a Scientist Looks Like

Check this out.

18 January 2012

Review: Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East

If you live in the eastern United States or Canada, be sure to pick up a copy of Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East by Dennis Paulson. This book is a must for any odonata enthusiast.

It covers 336 species in 538 pages. Some of these are the same species Paulson covered in his earlier release, Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West. If you own that book, you may want to pick up the eastern guide anyway; Paulson notes in his preface that in the two years or so since the western guide was published he has learned so much that some material in the eastern guide will "modify, perhaps even contradict" the previous book.

That caveat reflects how rapidly our understanding of Odonata distribution, ecology, and identification is evolving. Putting together a field guide to any taxa is a daunting task, much less authoring one on a moving target like Odonata. Paulson has pulled together reams of data from many sources to make this book an essential step forward from the first broad field guide to Odonata, Dunkle's Dragonflies through Binoculars, published in 2000. And of course, unlike Dunkle, it contains damselflies -- a huge and exciting plus.

Field use

Although it is in a standard roughly 8.5 by 5.5 inch field-guide size, it will weigh down your field pack by 2 pounds, 5 ounces. The type size doesn't seem smaller than other field guides, but it is very dense -- a lot of text with characters spaced very closely. For those of us in middle age, it can be difficult to wade through, especially in the field.

There are two aspects of the layout that could make field use a bit frustrating from some people.  Although we strongly prefer photo/illustration, text, and maps for each species to be all together (as they are in this book) rather than separated into plates and text (as they are in Dunkle), the variable amount of material for each species in this book means a species account could start anywhere on a page. You have to scan each page for the name of the species you are looking for. This layout is unavoidable given the amount of material in the book; thoroughness won out over user-friendly.

Second, the species are arranged in taxonomic order. In most lists of Odonata (including the Checklist of North American Odonata1), the species are listed in alphabetical order within each genus. Perhaps for most folks, who don't know the scientific names of many odonates in the first place, this will start them out on the right foot: learning the correct order and relationships. For those of us who know just enough Latin to be dangerous, it just sends us to the index. Putting together a quickie index to paste inside the back cover to guide you to your most frequently-used genera/species will be helpful.

Introductory and background material

A good introduction reviews Odonata natural history and anatomy with many great photos adding to the text.  Paulson writes clear prose that is easy-to-read without dumbing down, technical and accurate without being pedantic, and which shows his enthusiasm and wonder for odonates. The detailed macro anatomy photos in this section will be extremely helpful to complement the text describing each species, as will the three-page glossary in the back of the book.

Other overview material includes odonate threats and conservation; and finding, photographing, identifying, and collecting Odonata. Paulson outlines the important elements of identification, emphasizing the many pitfalls of trying to ID odes in the field or from photos, and he provides a good section on the hows and whys of collecting voucher specimens.

Species accounts

As one would expect, the majority of the book contains the species accounts. Each species is given similar attention, whether it's widespread and common, or limited in range. Topics for each include identification, similar species, natural history, habitat, flight season, distribution, and a range map. There are typically at least two photos in each account, usually one of each sex but also sometimes various color forms, young individuals, or regional variants.

One of the best features of the book are the illustrations which show differences between similar species' features such as male appendages or female subgenital plates. These usually follow the group of species accounts that they illustrate (pond damsels, common clubtails), but sometimes occur within the species accounts (e.g., some male Aeshna hamules and appendages). We find illustrations like this essential to ID, providing you have the insect in hand (we'd love to have these illustrations included in a small booklet for the field). These are some of the largest and most helpful we've seen, especially helpful since while the photographs of each species are very nice, most cannot adequately portray these key features. Note, however, that the illlustrations are all simple, clear line drawings and depict structural differences. Thus, no page of thoracic patterns of darners, or color patterns of the last few abdominal sections of bluets or dancers. The line drawings are only labeled with common names; scientific names would have been a valuable inclusion, and it seems like space is adequate.

While we haven't read each one, the text for the accounts seems more than adequate. Regional differences are noted if needed. The "Comments" section is often the most interesting, providing information on taxonomic quandaries, distribution mysteries, and/or knotty identification problems. It's worth it to read the introductory material for each genera as well as the accounts of all similar species when you're attacking an ID to get a complete picture. For instance, the account for Slender Baskettail (Epitheca costalis) mentions the intermediate/hybrid individuals (with Common Baskettail, E. cynosura) in the upper Midwest, but this is not brought up in the cynosura account -- even though that account notes it is the most common baskettail in the east with which all others should be compared.

The range maps are not color-coded to indicate early or late flight seasons. That was a nice touch in Dunkle's book, but would have added another layer of complexity to an already complicated task. Constructing range maps for a large region is fraught with pitfalls. These are based on a wide variety of sources and include data through the year 2010. But with a taxa like Odonata where our knowledge of distribution is so dynamic, they should be used, as Paulson notes, to "give a good idea of the known or expected distribution." He provides a further caveat that some records on which the maps are based are old, and some species may now be absent for parts of their former range.

At this particular scale, some range margins need to be taken with a grain of salt. For instance, Flag-tailed Spinyleg (Dromogomphus spoliatus) was first found by us in Michigan in Wayne Co., and has since been found in Monroe and Lenawee counties, all in extreme southeastern Michigan. The range map seems overly generous for the state. We had Michigan's first Band-winged Dragonlets (Erythrodiplax umbrata) in 2007. The record is in Odonata Central, and was published within months, but the range falls short of Michigan (nor is there a dot indicating a vagrant record). And although it was axed from the MOS database -- but not from Odonata Central -- years ago as an error, the Alpena County Russet-tipped Clubtail (Stylurus plagiatus) is shown on its map. It's just not possible for an author to keep up with all of this, and the range maps are surprisingly detailed given the amount of fragmented source data. They are a great jumping off point...and let the errata compilation begin!

In fact, the Princeton University Press web site includes a link to references used in both the eastern and western guides. It only includes papers published through 2007, but will be added to and become a valuable go-to site for serious users wanting updates.

This guide is also available in a Kindle edition. We'd be interested in hearing from people who have this on a Kindle Fire or other color e-reader. How does it look and function?

Our job as reviewers is to critique. Many of our comments are nit-picky, and probably won't be too important to the average user of the book. Though we have critiqued, we are not critical of this absolutely essential book. Get it, study it, and be ready for ode season 2012!

1Paulson, D. R., and S. W. Dunkle. 2011. A Checklist of North American Odonata, Including English Name, Etymology, Type Locality and Distribution. 2011 Edition. Originally published as Occasional Paper No. 56, Slater Museum of Natural History, University of Puget Sound, June 1999; completely revised March 2009; updated February 2011.