An Emerald by Any Other Name Is Still an Emerald

Before proceeding through the rest of this section on the dragonflies of Idaho, we should clarify a few things. It will be more interesting and helpful to you to read the Introduction first (which you have almost done!). Then move on to the Family Tree, and from there to each Family Page and its individual Family Members (species).

Each species is presented with its scientific name and its common name. The scientific name is in Latin. It consists of a genus name (capitalized) followed by the non-capitalized species name. These scientific names are universal so that scientists everywhere can recognize a species by its Latin name, no matter what language he/she speaks. This avoids confusion because common names vary from place to place and from language to language. An example of a scientific name would be Anax junius, the Latin name for the Common Green Darner. The scientific name should always be italicized, if possible, or underlined if it can't be italicized. Each species has only one scientific name, even though it may have many common names. We have included the common name that has been assigned to each of the Idaho species by the Dragonfly Society of the Americas. But beware when using common names since they may not be the same everywhere you go.

Among the people that study dragonflies in North America, agreement on the various species is widespread. We have very few species complexes or subspecies that can make exact identification of butterflies so difficult. There is some mild-mannered debate about how different species of dragonflies are divided into genera and families, and their evolutionary relationships, but most odonatologists (biologists who study dragonflies) generally agree on what the species are.

Dragonflies may be the easiest group of insects to learn and identify. Compared to most orders of insects, there are very few species of dragonflies. For example, in North America there are over 11,000 species of Lepidopterans (butterflies and moths) compared to only 500 to 600 species of Odonates (dragonflies and damselflies). It may still sound like a lot, 500 - 600 species is a small group in the insect world. This is about the same as the number of species of birds in North America. Dragonflies are also larger than most insects and the adults are usually distinctly colored. All these factors make dragonflies an excellent group to begin developing identification skills such as learning to use an identification key.