How to Identify a Dragonfly

Explore the wondrous world of dragonflies and damselflies with these informative field guides.

Field guides have long helped nurture nature lovers’ passion for birds, and more recently butterflies. Now, they’re helping people explore the astounding diversity of dragonflies and damselflies. Whether you’re a longtime birder looking to tackle a new type of life list, a practiced dragonfly watcher craving for more information, or a novice who’s interest in the darting, zipping jewels has just been sparked, there’s a guide for you. Here, Audubon offers a selection of field guides for dragonfly enthusiasts, ranging from expert to beginner, and specific region to the entire continent. 



Blair Nikula, Jackie Sones, Donald Stokes, Lillian Stokes

Little, Brown and Company, 150 pages, $9.99

Lightweight and portable, this guide can fit in a pocket or daypack for use in the field. The opening pages provide general information about dragonfly biology, and give tips on what to look for to aid identification. Species are organized into like groups, with a checklist in front to point readers in the right section. Although it doesn’t cover every species, this book is a perfect introductory guide to dragonfly and damselfly identification.

DRAGONFLIES THROUGH BINOCULARS: A Field Guide to Dragonflies of North America

By Sidney W. Dunkle  

Oxford University Press, 266 pages, $29.95

Getting up close to identify flighty dragonflies can be difficult, so binoculars are an indispensible tool to help pinpoint a species from afar. In addition to the standard identification information, Dragonflies through Binoculars offers advice on different types of optics, and how to best use them to identify dragonflies. Dunkle, a biologist at Collin County Community College in Texas, also includes tips on where to find dragonflies. The guide’s index doubles as a built-in checklist for enthusiasts to keep track of species they have spotted.

DAMSELFLIES OF THE NORTHEAST: A Guide to the Species of Eastern Canada & the Northeastern United States

By Ed Lam

Biodiversity Books, 96 pages, $25

If your interest extends to damsels, not dragons, Damselflies of the Northeast: A Guide to the Species of Eastern Canada & the Northeastern United States is your go-to guide. An artist and authority on odes, Ed Lam’s illustrations are both beautiful and extremely useful. Experts will enjoy the wealth of technical detail, while beginners will appreciate the tips to distinguish between similar species. Helpfully, Lam notes if a species can be identified in the field, or if capture and up-close inspection are optimal to pinpoint a species.


By Dennis Paulson

Princeton University Press, 576 pages, $29.95

Odonatologist Dennis Paulson’s Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East is a great all-in-one guide to the 336 species in the eastern United States and Canada. The book contains helpful illustrations of the anatomical parts necessary for identification, in addition to large color photographs of each species. Also included is a glossary and index for quick navigation. Especially useful is the natural history section, which notes each species’ unique behavior for better identification.


By Dennis Paulson

Princeton University Press, 536 pages, $29.95

The companion to the eastern edition, Dennis Paulson’s guide features all 348 species of dragonfly and damselfly west of the Mississippi River. The book contains large color photographs of both males and females for each species, in addition to the standard species description, identification tips, habitat, and range. Like the eastern version, it has a section on odes natural history, with detailed notes on the unique behavior of each species.


By Giff Beaton

University of Georgia Press, 368 pages, $24.95

Covering southeastern species found north of Florida, naturalist Giff Beaton’s guide is perfect for dragonfly enthusiasts living in Georgia and neighboring states. The text covers the 150 most common species in the region, many of which are found in the Mid-Atlantic States and Florida as well. Large color photographs make for easy identification, and the guide also includes information on flight seasons, range, similar species, habitat, and behavior.


By John C. Abbott

Princeton University Press, 360 pages, $39.50

Dragonfly lovers of the south-central United States now have a guide all their own. This comprehensive tome includes the 263 species of dragonflies and damselflies that inhabit Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. Covering more than half of North America’s species, it’s also useful outside of the south-central states. Entomologist John Abbott’s weighty guide is for serious enthusiasts, and includes a checklist, large bibliography, and helpful range maps.


By Kathy Biggs

Azalea Creek Publishing, 128 pages, $9.95

Naturalist Kathy Bigg’s beginner-friendly book covers the 113 species of dragonflies and damselflies of California. The guide features a bold line showing the length of each species, to help compare dragonflies of different sizes. Color photographs of both males and females are included. The descriptions are detailed but succinct, so it’s light enough to carry into the outdoors. Beginners will also appreciate the explanations of technical terms included in the glossary.


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