You can see more species of birds than dragonflies in Minnesota, but that doesn’t make the latter any less interesting. 

 

A friend recently told me of someone he knew who had little or no interest in anything but fish. Fish are great, but how can you pass all of the other fascinating creatures you certainly see when, for instance, you are on a birding walk?

 

I watch for and try to photograph dragonflies when birding with camera in hand. The trouble for me is identification, but that does not lessen the pleasure. 

 

Often subtle differences in color and body parts are among the distinguishing characteristics for dragonflies. It’s the same for birds, I know, but far less subtle.

 

A new book from Princeton University Press , “Dragonflies and Damsselflies” by Dennis Paulson, uses examples from throughout the world to tell the stories of these insects. Many species are illustrated to help describe dragonfly behavior and biology.

 

Paulson is considered one of the world’s leading experts on these winged creatures. (His pair of identification books, “Dragonflies of the West, and “Dragonflies of the East,” also from Princeton, would aid identification efforts.)

 

Birds and dragonflies share more than wings. Both were contemporaries of dinosaurs back in the day. Dragonflies were extant 300 million years ago, one of them with a 30-inch wingspan that would out-compete most bird species today.

 

Dragonflies also have diets similar to those of some of our bird species. The handsome insects eat midges, mosquitos, butterflies, and moths, plus smaller dragonflies. Some larger species eat fish.

 

Dragonflies don’t eat birds. It’s the other way around. Several Minnesota bird species eat dragonflies. The photo here shows an Eastern Wood-pewee stuffing a dragonfly into the mouth of one of its babies. That must have been a scratchy swallow.

 

This book is comprehensive and accessible. The photos are stunning.

The book will make your next birding walk near a wetland or pond on a sunny day much more interesting. 

 

Minnesota, by the way, has about 140 species of dragonflies.

 

(Princeton University Press, hardcover, 224 pages, 150 color illustrations, $29.95, in bookstores now.)

 

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