Resources for Identifying Odonates

EquipmentYou can get started identifying dragonflies and damselflies with very little equipment. Naturally the most important thing to have is a guide for identification. Many species may be identified with the naked eye but close-focus binoculars may let you get a better view. Some species, however, require capturing and examining appendages through a hand lens. A good source used for the purchase of nets and hand lenses has been BioQuip.


Although many people just enjoy observing and identifying odonata, specimen collection is an important part of scientific research. Specimens in private collections should be known and made available to other researchers. As with other outdoor activities, there are some ethical considerations for collecting odonata.  If you are intersted in collecting and preserving odes, this article gives you all the particulars about the preparation of specimens.

Field Guides

In the past 10 - 15 years a number of field guides to dragonflies and damselflies have been published. Following are some recommendations for our area. Most are available in your local bookstore or through Amazon.

PaulsonDragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) by Dennis Paulson (Dec 2011)
This recently published field guide provides much critical detail to differentiate species found in North America. It is a "must have" to get started on field identification.
DunkleDragonflies through Binoculars: A Field Guide to Dragonflies of North America (Butterflies Through Binoculars Series) by Sidney W. Dunkle (Oct 2000)
The first true field guide to the dragonflies of North America, this book nearly single-handedly began a revolution of new interest in dragonflies by those with other natural history interests.
JohnsonDragonflies and Damselflies in Your Pocket: A Guide to the Odonates of the Upper Midwest by Ann Johnson (April 2009)
This folding laminated pocket guide is inteded for an audience just starting to investigate dragonflies and damselflies. The many photos help illustrate some of the more common species one might see and give some feel for differences in families.
LamDamselflies of the Northeast: A Guide to the Species of Eastern Canada & the Northeastern United States by Ed Lam (2004)
This excellent book sets a new standard for field identification of damselflies.  Although it was written for the northeast, all but three species of Iowa damselflies can be found here.
MeadDragonflies of the North Woods by Kurt Mead (Jul 2009)
While the north woods country has a number of species which do not reach Iowa, this book has many photos and great identification clues for most of our species.
DuBoisDamselflies of the North Woods (North Woods Naturalist Guides) by Robert Dubois (Jun 2005)
Apparently out-of-print and pricey on the secondary market, watch for this superb field guide to damselflies at book sales. This guide, like its dragondfly counterpart, is regionalized for the north woods but has many Iowa species.
StokesStokes Beginner's Guide to Dragonflies by Blair Nikula, Jackie Sones, Donald Stokes and Lillian Stokes (May 2002)
Although the Stokes beginner's guide somewhat targets a larger population of the northeast, it has many Iowa species illustrated and described.

More Technical References

  • Dragonflies: Behavior and Ecology of Odonata. Corbet, Philip S.1999. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.
  • The Dragonflies of North America. Needham, James G., Minter S. Westfall, Jr., and Michael May 2000. 939 pages. 24 color plates. $110. Scientific Publishers.
  • Damselflies of North America. Westfall, Minter J. and Michael May. Scientific Publishers. 1996.

Useful Websites