Longfield, Cynthia

Cynthia Longfield (1896 – 1991)

Explorer and Dragon-fly Hunter

Cynthia Longfield was in the fine Edwardian tradition of intrepid lady naturalists whose courage and intelligence made them successful. In the course of her collecting trips to remote areas worldwide she became an international expert on dragonflies (Odonata) and discovered many which were new to science.

Cynthia was born to Mountifort and Alice Longfield at Castle Mary, Cloyne, Co. Cork . á Her early interest in science was encouraged by her maternal grandfather, James Mason, an English chemist and engineer, and by her mother who provided her with science books. She had a keen sense of adventure and the family wealth enabled her to join expeditions to Latin America and Egypt as a young woman. She never held a paying job and for most of her professional life worked as a volunteer in the Natural History Museum in London .

Her interest in dragonflies began with an expedition to the Pacific Islands in 1924. On her return, she worked (unpaid) at the British Museum , cataloguing the dragonflies she and her colleagues had collected. á Her next expedition, in 1927, was a six-month 4,000-mile trip to South America , visiting hazardous areas of the Mato Grosso, the river Paraguay and the Iguaz˙ Falls . She soon established herself as an international expert and took part in further expeditions to Asia and Africa . At that time the extent of the British Empire created a vast social network, with naturalists carrying letters of introduction to diplomats and family friends. These naturalists described some dozens of new dragonfly species and some, such as Castoraeschna lonfieldae and Corphaeschua longfieldae, were named after Cynthia Longfield.

She published a steady stream of papers between 1929 and 1964, with her major work, The Dragonflies of the British Isles, appearing in 1937. This ran to several editions and was the definitive textbook until the 1980s. She co-wrote Dragonflies in 1960, one of the most successful of the Collins New Naturalist Series. She retired from the British Museum and returned to her native Cloyne in 1956, but continued travelling, collecting specimens, lecturing and writing.


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