Books about dragonflies and damselflies

There are many books published today about Odonata – dragonflies and damselflies, and it can be a difficult choice deciding which to buy. Getting it wrong is frustrating and can be an expensive mistake. Although there is often some cross-over, books can be broadly divided into two groups: field guides, and reference books. Let’s look at the differences.

The principal purpose of a field guide is to aid the correct identification of an unknown dragonfly or damselfly; some guides go further and cover identification of larvae as well. Generally, they will list and describe each species in turn, along with supporting illustrations or photos. Some guides also include, in varying levels of detail, information on the life cycle and behaviour of Odonata.

Reference books, on the other hand, focus more on biology, life cycle, and ecology. They will devote less space (or none at all) to identification but explore other aspects in much greater depth than a field guide allows. Many reference books assume some prior knowledge of the subject, they may use more technical terms, and will more likely use a species’ Latin name in preference over the common English name. This website uses both English common names and Latin names throughout.

If your primary interest lies in identifying something you have seen, a good field guide is the best (and often cheaper) option. Reference books usually aren’t as helpful in the identification of species but are the better choice if you want to learn more about them or specific aspects of their behaviour.

The quality and quantity of books about Odonata, and field guides in particular, has improved greatly over recent years and we are now rather spoilt for choice. Here are some recommended titles, all of which I have enjoyed reading.

Field guides and identification books

Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland

Steve Brooks and Steve Cham, illustrated by Richard Lewington

Bloomsbury Wildlife Guides – ISBN 978-1-4729-6453-3

Now in its fifth edition, this is one of the most useful field guides for use in the UK. Well written and illustrated, it’s easy to use and identify British and Irish species.

The guide is split in to two sections, the first is a general guide to Odonata covering their life history, distribution, and habitats. There is also a useful guide to dragonflies and the law – their protected status and collection is covered.

The second section is the detailed species accounts, devoting a couple of pages to each species, with half a page taken up by a distribution map and Richard Lewington’s excellent illustrations. Many of these include additional pictures highlighting specific identification aids and diagnostic features.

Excellent and informative field guide.

Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Britain and Europe

Klaas-Douwe B Dijkstra and Asmus Schröter, illustrated by Richard Lewington

Bloomsbury Wildlife Guides – ISBN 978-1-4729-4395-8

Similar in style to the Brooks & Lewington guide, even sharing many of the same Richard Lewington illustrations. Species accounts are shorter, unsurprisingly given the sheer quantity that it crams in, but all the necessary detail is present.

The second edition is comprehensive and has some excellent information on separating similar species which definitely makes this a must have guide. However, covering all of Europe makes it harder to locate British and Irish species.

Excellent guide, especially if venturing further afield.

Britain’s Dragonflies

Dave Smallshire and Andy Swash

WILDGuides – ISBN 978-0-691-18141-7

This is probably the best guide now for UK species, and the 4th edition is a great update.

This guide is focussed mainly on identification, with only a few pages dedicated to their biology and ecology. This is no bad thing, and gives more space to fulfil a field guide’s true purpose.

The book takes a different approach to some earlier field guides and uses photographs to show each species, while additional illustrations are used to great effect to highlight key features. The colour distribution maps are also very good.

A real plus point of the guide is that it’s focussed on identification, this is very well thought out and has many useful tips and information on separating similar species.

There is a useful iPhone app version of the book available which I also recommend.

The best dragonfly guide.

Dragonflies of Bedfordshire

Steve Cham

Bedfordshire Natural History Society – ISBN 0-95-065217-2

An excellent book covering species occurring in Bedfordshire, with lots of useful local information regarding species distribution, site details, first and last dates etc.

I like this book very much, and it’s the first dragonfly book I bought (from County Town Books in Bedford). It’s overdue an update and doesn’t feature all of the species that may be found in the County now, but this is a unique book and there is nothing comparable covering the area in this detail.

Still a great read but needs an update.

Reference works about dragonflies and damselflies


Philip Corbet and Stephen Brooks

Collins New Naturalist Library – ISBN 978-0-00-715168-4

A comprehensive and detailed account of every aspect of dragonfly life. This is an excellent read if you want a more in-depth exploration of dragonflies and damselflies.

Topics covered:

  • The British Species
  • Habitat selection and ovipositing
  • Eggs, larvae, and emergence
  • Adult life
  • Feeding
  • Reproductive behaviour
  • History of British Odonatology


  • The British checklist
  • Collection and photography
  • Distribution maps
  • SSSI criteria relating to Odonata
Comprehensive text, useful for more advanced study.


Steve Brooks

The Natural History Museum – ISBN 0-56-509180-8

A good general book on dragonflies and damselflies, extensively illustrated with colour photographs covering all aspects of the life cycle of Odonata. The last third of the book examines the worldwide diversity and different families of Odonata, and wrapping up with the impact of humans.

Topics covered:

  • What are dragonflies and damselflies?
  • Immature and adult stages
  • Reproduction
  • Adult life
  • Diversity of species
  • Odonata and humans
Great introduction to dragonflies (and damselflies).

Dragonflies of the World

Jill Silsby

The Natural History Museum – ISBN 0-56-509165-4

A very well illustrated general book that looks at all aspects of Odonata, covering all families of dragonflies and damselflies around the globe. As you might expect of the Natural History Museum, the book features some very interesting information about the fossil record and evolutionary path of Odonata. Perhaps uniquely, the book also offers guidance on rearing dragonflies and damselflies at home to observe their development.

Topics covered:

  • Evolution and today’s Odonata
  • Life cycle
  • Hunting and arial agility
  • Colouring
  • Habitats
  • Worldwide Odonata accounts
  • Artificial rearing
  • Conservation
Some interesting and unique material but devotes a lot of coverage to the various families found globally.