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 . . .


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