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Cynthia Longfield was another woman who liked insects and was especially enamored of dragonflies and damselflies. She was, in fact, author of the book "The Dragonflies of the British Isles" published in 1937.

Born in County Cork, Ireland, she was encouraged in her interests in natural history by her maternal grandfather and by her mother Alice. Her family was wealthy and so she did not have to work, though she volunteered at the British Museum of Natural History in London. Like Darwin she could afford to devote her life to her interest, in this case in dragonflies (Odonata), and she discovered a number of new species. She first became interested in the Odonata while on a trip to the Pacific in 1924, made possible by her family's wealth. In 1927 she went on a 4000 mile trip to South America, including the Mato Grosso, the Rio Paraguay and IguazĂș Falls.  She cataloged the materials she collected and other entomologists honored her with two species named after her, Castoraeschna longfieldae and Corphaeschua longfieldae. In 1934 she set off alone to collect in Africa, bringing back a large number of specimens. She coauthored "Dragonflies" in the Collins New Naturalist Series in 1960, after retiring from the Natural History Museum and returning to Ireland in 1956.  She also authored a number of other publications on Odonata during her long life, continuing collecting and traveling for quite some time after she retired from her volunteer position at the British Museum. She never married, although she was engaged for a while.

Cynthia Longfield is a member of one of the great traditions in taxonomy and zoogeography, that of the knowledgeable and often expert amateur scientists.  In fact all of us in the professional sciences started as amateurs, and I spent some time studying spiders and beetles before I put the professional label to my name by getting my Ph.D.  I have known many knowledgeable amateurs in my life and I am sure that had I known her I would have been able to discuss her work with her quite nicely. The Odonates are one of my favorite arthropods after spiders, some beetles, and Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps.)  I have added several county records of dragonflies to the faunal lists simply because I like to photograph them.  Cynthia Longfield did not have our modern photographic equipment, but she added many records to our worldwide knowledge of a quite fascinating order, one that kills and eats huge numbers of pest insects, including mosquitoes.  

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Cynthia Longfield

Cynthia Evelyn Longfield

Cynthia Longfield

Originally posted to Desert Scientist on Fri Aug 02, 2013 at 03:58 PM PDT.

Also republished by Backyard Science, SciTech, History for Kossacks, Feminism, Pro-Feminism, Womanism: Feminist Issues, Ideas, & Activism, and Community Spotlight.

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