Monday, 20 February 2012

The Name Game II - The final say ?

So on to round 2 of the great K-D B Dijkstra name game shake-up.

The best change suggested for British Dragonfly names in The Fieldguide to the Dragonflies of Britain and Europe is the Norfolk Hawker being replaced by Green-eyed Hawker, like the damselfly of the same name this disposes of the regional BDS name and as those big green eyes are the most striking feature, a good call I think.
I also agree with changing Common Hawker to Moorland Hawker, though the American name of Sedge Hawker would be more suited to the habitat in which they are found in Gateshead.
A change I don't like is Southern Hawker to Blue Hawker, not suitable at all as it's mainly green, but then there is already a green hawker found in north-eastern Europe.
Emperor Dragonfly to Blue Emperor? nah! simply Emperor would do for the most common of the Emperor species (certainly Common Emperor doesn't sound right ! )
Hairy Dragonfly to Hairy Hawker ? yip, better altogether.
Club-tailed Dragonfly to Common Clubtail? yip, an improvement too.
Golden-ringed Dragonfly to Common Goldenring ? No to this one, there's nothing common looking about this magnificent beast and this is the only case I think the 'Dragonfly' descriptive fits.
The Emeralds, Chasers and Skimmers are all left alone bar the Scarce Chaser which becomes Blue Chaser, another improvement I think, and the darters remain the same too apart from the White-faced Darter which becomes a Small White-Face, (Nah ! If it's a darter it's a darter) and we learn too that in America, our Darters are known as Meadowhawks, great name, but I like darter too much to want to change it.

In the main I think there is certainly room for discussion on the subject of common names and though some changes make sense, change for changing sake serves no purpose whatsoever, and doesn't alter the quality of a really top-notch Field Guide by Klaus-D B Dijkstra, which I highly recommend as a guide to European Dragonflies.

But if I thought that was the end of the name game I was made to think again after purchasing Dragonflies by Philip Corbet and Stephen Brooks (2008)
Here we are told that standardisation of vernacular names is still very much fragmented, only as recently as 1991 did the British Dragonfly Society adopt the names we use today for British and Irish species put forward by Cyril Hammond in 1977.
But in 2004 Brian Nelson and Robert Thompson (in their book on the Natural History of Dragonflies in Ireland) changed the common names of 20 species also found in the UK, including adopting the names Jewelwing and Spreadwing (for Demoiselle and Emerald) from North American usage.
So with three sets of common names now in popular use around the English-speaking world, Corbet and Brooks decided to reference species in their book with scientific names only !!!

This is OK if you are adept at recognising the latin, but if not, a bit infuriating having to keep checking the appendix at the back of the book to make sure you have the right species in mind. In the long run I suppose it will prove useful as by the end  of the book the scientific names should be as familiar to the reader as the common names, but at the moment only a quarter of the way through, it's proving a bit tedious.  
Anyway as it should prove useful in learning the names I'll certainly persevere, but then Corbet and Brooks go on to reveal how the term 'dragonflies' refers to the Order of Dragonflies, that Damselfly is an adopted name for the Sub-Order Zygoptera, and that the Sub-Order of Anisoptera (up to now known as true dragonflies) does not have a proper adopted name.

So they announce that from this day forth, dragonflies of the Sub-Order Anisoptera shall be known as . . . .wait for it . . . .WARRIORFLIES ! ? ! ? !

Whaaaaat? sorry lads but if I ever heard myself uttering that toe-curlingly cringeworthy title, I would be tempted to rip my own throat out. It's THAT bad !
And four years on from publication I have thankfully yet to hear anyone use it, nor to my knowledge is there any reference to it on the BDS website or literature so hopefully it has been sent to room 101 where it belongs.

Well I had to get that off my chest, as that apart, (the book) Dragonflies is a mine of information in gaining an understanding of the lives and habits of our favourite creatures.

To be honest the confusion runs a lot deeper than this with difficulties in scientific names too, disputes about sub-species and races of full species abound so for the moment I think I'll just stick to my secluded little world of the British Isles and use the names I first learned from the British Dragonfly Society.
So after lots of consideration and with a bit of simplification for use in the field here is my own terminology for the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Gateshead :

Banded Demoiselle - same
Emerald Damselfly - Emerald damsel
Large Red Damselfly - Large Red damsel
Common Blue Damselfly - Common Blue damsel
Azure Damselfly - Azure damsel

Emperor Dragonfly - Emperor
Common Hawker - same
Southern hawker - same
Migrant Hawker - same
Four-Spotted Chaser - same
Broad-bodied Chaser - same
Black-tailed Skimmer - same
Common Darter - same
Ruddy Darter - same
Black Darter - same   

Which prompts the question; Why did I bother ? :)

Saturday, 18 February 2012

The Name Game

1997 was not only the year I became a dragonhunter, but by co-incidence was the year Steve Brooks published the excellent Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland. As an identification guide this has yet to be bettered, due largely to the beautifully detailed illustrations by Richard Lewington.
This book has become my 'bible' and mainly uses the common or vernacular name for each species as made popular in this country by the British Dragonfly Society, a lot easier to remember than the scientific names, (though these of course are shown too) which are more important for international conformity.
And with only 49 species to learn, what could be simpler ?

Wrong !!!

For in 2006 the Field Guide to the Dragonflies of Britain and Europe by Klaas-Douwe B Dijkstra (again beautifully illustrated by Richard Lewington) was published and introduced me to over 250 species found in Europe and North Africa, brilliant!
But it also introduced me to a new problem, that of English names in common usage. Those dragonflies found in Britain are also found in many parts of Europe, and vernacular names adopted by the British Dragonfly Society can be particular to us here in Britain, but not relevant as descriptive names elsewhere in Europe. Therefore Mr Dijkstra has invented a whole host of new names for a number of species found in Britain, so let's have a look :

First of all we learn that the Demoiselles are known as Jewelwings in North America, but as our resident species aren't found there it makes no difference, and the Demoiselle name is kept on.
But the group of Emerald Damselflies are given the new name of Spreadwings, again from North America, to avoid confusion with the similarly named Emerald Dragonflies.
Fair enough and in this case a good idea I think, so our widespread Common Emerald Damselfly is now called Common Spreadwing according to Dijkstra, but then the first piece of bafflement with the Scarce Emerald Damselfly being known as the Emerald Spreadwing in America is given the English European name of Robust Spreadwing?!
Another proposed change I agree with is re-naming the Blue-tailed Damselfly as the Common Bluetail ( I think dropping all the usage of damselfly and dragonfly in common names is to be applauded)
The American name is also adopted for our mainly blue damselflies, so Common Blue Damselfly becomes the Common Bluet, Azure Damselfly becomes Azure Bluet and so on until you get to the more local species found in Britain whose BDS names have no bearing in Europe, so our Northern Damselfly (instead of now being a Northern Bluet) becomes a Spearhead Bluet (after the shape of the black marking on segment 2 of the abdomen)
In the same way the Southern Damselfly becomes the Mercury Bluet (the s2 shape resembles the symbol for mercury), similarly the Irish Damselfly becomes the Crescent Bluet, and the very local Norfolk Damselfly becomes the Dark Bluet as it resembles a blue-tail rather than the other blue species.
Overall I agree with these new names, I think it's a bit arrogant of us to expect the rest of Europe to adopt our regional names, (especially in the case of the Norfolk Damselfly) but the name 'bluet' isn't really growing on me, though better than continuing the use of damselfly as the descriptive name.
Moving on, the red-eyed damselflies now become Large Red-eye and Small Red-eye, (nice) then Dijkstra hits us with his googly, something so simple it's brilliant.
The Large Red and Small Red Damselflies are simply changed to Large Red Damsel and Small Red Damsel, YES!! I use the 'damsel' abbreviation myself for most species in the field just for convenience sake, so I say drop the bluet and call the blues damsels too. Sorted !
On to the true Dragonflies then, and I wonder what treats Mr Dijkstra has in store for us here . . .