Guide books offer clear, concise tips on lichens, insects

Posted: Friday, July 02, 2010

Two new ultra-local and outdoor-focused books penned by resident experts have now hit bookstores around Juneau.

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Cover Images Courtesy  Of The Authors
Cover Images Courtesy Of The Authors

"Lichens around the Mendenhall Glacier" and the second edition of "Dragonflies of Alaska" highlight the unique species of both lichens and dragonflies that thrive in Alaska's unique environment.

Penned by Chiska Derr and Robert Armstrong, "Lichens" is a spiral-bound, full-color book giving background on lichen ecology while simplifying the world surrounding these unique organisms. And while these organisms may by tiny - often sending inquiring individuals to their hands and knees for a better look - the authors paint a clear picture of the important role they play in the overall local ecosystem. All the lichens featured in the 48-page publication can be found in the vicinity of the Mendenhall Glacier.

Succinct and easy-to-understand descriptions give readers an overview of what is, and is not, a lichen. And while some may find these damp, forest dwelling organisms, less than appealing, the authors do a fine job of honing in on unusual characteristics and facts that make lichens interesting. For instance, beard lichens are the only lichens with a central elastic cord. "If you pull a strand lengthwise, the outer layer will break into segments, revealing a central cord that stretches like a thin rubber band." This characteristic "reminds some people of 'pearls on a string.'"

The authors also include tips on how to spot "look-alikes."

From hairlike to leafy, shrubby to crusty, this book concisely touches on a variety of species. But perhaps most striking are the photographs.

They illustrate the detail, and often, the surprising color that appears on the differing varieties of lichens.

The guide is currently being sold at Hearthside Books and at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center for $19.95.

Edition two of "Dragonflies" comes from the expertise of John Hudson and also Armstrong. In the 55 pages of this full-color book, one can learn how to identify all 35 species of dragonflies found in Alaska. There are also tips on catching and photographing these tenacious insects. The guide itself is a follow to the first edition that was published in 2005 and is aimed at beginners looking to hone their identification skills. Since the first edition, three more dragonfly species have been discovered in Alaska; the Prairie Bluet, Kennedy's Emerald and Ocellated Emerald.

Hence edition two was born, and Hudson said he thinks the illustrations added to this edition will help with identifications.

Hudson also said he's hoping this updated guide will encourage Alaskans and other dragonfly enthusiasts to get out and identify the species they find.

It's possible, he said, there are more new species to document.

"I'm certainly using the book to help encourage seekers," he said.

And while Hudson admits the Emeralds, a mid-sized and colorful dragonfly, are his favorite, he notes these insects are a vital part of Alaska's aquatic world, as both predator and prey.

The second edition of "Dragonflies of Alaska" sells for $12.95.

• Contact Outdoors editor Abby Lowell at

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