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Winged Beauty

Christopher Brodie

From <em>A Dazzle of Dragonflies</em>Click to Enlarge Image

A Dazzle of Dragonflies (Texas A & M Press, $39.95) is neither a field guide nor a scientific treatise, although the authors, Forrest L. Mitchell and James L. Lasswell, are entomologists at an agricultural research station in central Texas. More than a hundred dragonflies are pictured in this coffee-table book: Jeweled specimens decorate almost every page. The volume was designed to delight and inform amateur enthusiasts, and the remarkably detailed photographs do just that. Many of the images were ingeniously captured by putting living dragonflies on a flatbed scanner. The wonderfully written text is rich with detail and personal stories. It gives a comprehensive overview of the natural history of the insect, delves into Japanese folklore and poetry (which feature dragonflies prominently) and discusses 300-million-year-old fossils of giant dragonflies with two-and-a-half-foot wingspans. The long chapter about watching dragonflies is divided into separate sections for each family, and the instructions for viewing describe distinguishing traits, behaviors and habitats. The authors have condensed their hard-earned lessons and tricks for capturing dragonfly images into a crash course on practical photography in the field. They also include detailed principles for constructing water gardens so that you can have your own local squadron of flashing predators. Pictured (top to bottom) are a flame skimmer (Libellula saturata); a fossil from the Permian period, of Tupus permianus, found in Elmo, Kansas, in 1903; and a female rubyspot damselfly (Hetaerina americana).—Chris Brodie

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