The Dragon Hunters: A Brief History of New England Odonatology

Christopher Leahy

Massachusetts Audubon Society



The first descriptions of American Odonata were published by European naturalists,

including the great Swedish systematist Carl von Linne (1707-1778), better known as Linnaeus. The first American to become fascinated with odes was Thomas Say (1787-1834), the "Father of American Entomology" and perhaps the most brilliant of the so-called Philadelphia naturalists, who described many new species. New England prominence in the field began with another European, the Prussian entomologist Hermann Hagen who established the first scientific collection of odonates at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology and published the first overview of North American dragonflies and damselflies in 1861. In the early 20th century R. Heber Howe did extensive field work in New England and arguably should be credited with publishing

the first field guide to odonates, the Manual of the Odonata of New England 1917 to 1923. In 1927 Phillip Garman published The Odonata or Dragonflies of Connecticut, from which the present writer laboriously keyed out his first Sympetrum in the 1960's. 


Biography: Christopher Leahy holds the Gerard A. Bertrand Chair of Natural History and Field Ornithology at the Massachusetts Audubon Society. He has been a professional conservationist for more than thirty years, most recently as the Director of Massachusetts Audubon’s Center for Biological Conservation. His interests in natural history are comprehensive and he is a recognized authority on birds and insects. His published works include The Birdwatcher’s Companion (first published by Hill & Wang in 1982 and due to be re-issued in a new edition by Princeton University Press in the spring of 2004), The First Guide to Insects (Houghton-Mifflin, 1987), Introduction to New England Birds (Massachusetts Audubon, 1990), An Introduction to Massachusetts Insects (1983, Massachusetts Audubon), and The Nature of Massachusetts (Addison-Wesley, 1996). Chris is also General Editor of Mass Audubon’s series of authoritative books on the flora and fauna of New England , including The Birds of Massachusetts (1993), The Ferns and Allied Plants of New England (1997), Inland Fishes of Massachusetts (2002), and the Massachusetts Breeding Bird Atlas (2004). Chris has designed and led natural history explorations to over 60 countries on all of the continents. He is especially fascinated with the world’s great remaining wilderness areas and biodiversity hot spots such as Antarctica , Mongolia , Madagascar and Bhutan .


Contact Info: Christopher Leahy, Endicott Center , 346 Grapevine Road , Wenham , MA 01984 . Email: