Dragonflies are among the most glittering jewels of the entomological world. And the most successful – their genetic pattern is an ancient one, as revealed by the time stained imprints of their gigantic wings and bodies fossilized hundreds of millions of years ago. Approximately 400-500 species are known in the United States, with new species being described every year. Their color and behavior have excited many professional and amateur entomologists, but unlike butterflies and beetles, dragonfly colors rarely preserve well in a collection. The insect so brilliant in life is reduced in a museum to a dull caricature of itself. Recent preservation protocols using acetone have increased specimen quality and gone far in maintaining the original color. However, no technique other than photography works completely at capturing color, and nothing else has been able preserve the color of the eyes.
Photography of dragonflies is a time consuming endeavor. Whether the photographer is trying to capture a dragonfly on film in a natural setting or trying to frame an image in the studio, much time and film can be spent before the final print is available. Even then the vagaries of color processing can render an incorrect color balance. In laboratory photographs, depth of field can be a limiting factor that allows only a narrow plane of the specimen to be focused. Quality lighting to obtain the true colors of the specimen is also important and placement of flashes to ward off shadows and light the specimen is necessary. But when these technical skills are combined with an artists eye, the results are impressive.
There is still recourse for those of us whose artistic eye is somewhat myopic. This is the use of a flatbed scanner. It requires some technical skill to use and may not be less expensive than photography, but will allow the collection of taxonomically useful images of dragonflies in color. Like photography, scanning does not necessarily harm the specimen and has the advantage of immediate electronic transferral. The technique is easy to learn and the following sections on specimen handling, software and hardware describe how to capture and view electronic images of the dragonflies.
The images presented here were collected by the entomology program based at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in Stephenville, part of the Texas A&M University System. Research on dragonflies and damselflies is conducted by the program in relation to regional water quality issues. The first issue, naturally, was an inventory of what species are present in the vicinity. So far, we have collected mainly from Erath county, but will expand slowly to include species from most of north-central Texas. The number of images included has expanded since the inception of this endeavor in September 1996, and more than 200 are now available throughout the project web pages. The Digital Dragonfly Project is divided into three parts. The Digital Dragonfly page (this site) is meant to show selected specimens of dragonflies from central Texas. A top and side view of one specimen of each sex from each species is our goal. The site is meant for interested or just casual visitors. All the images may be taken for personal or non-profit use.
The Digital Dragonfly Museum has more detail and contains multiple images by species/sex of the dragonflies. Our ultimate goal is to have top and side scans of 20-30 specimens of each sex of each species in the collection. The collection data for each specimen are available directly from the image screen via a button in the upper left corner. Specimens are numbered and the sex specified on each image. A number of excellent photographers contribute to the Museum website and a large collection of images taken by Curtis Williams is presented. Images can be searched by photographer and by species.
The Damselflies of Texas site looks at the smaller relatives of the dragonflies and has photographs as well as scans. Scanning a damselfly is different than scanning a dragonfly due to the shape of the thorax, but damselflies are often more cooperative photographic subjects than dragonflies.
Most images on our websites have intermediate sized thumbnail previews that appear before the main image. These smaller files will let the user filter through the views before deciding to take the time to download one of the larger images.