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Posts Tagged ‘dragonflies’

Dragonflies are very noticeable in any environment where they live. They’re big compared to other bugs. They’re fast and acrobatic flyers. So it’s no surprised that dragonflies are a part of legend and myth. Even the name, dragonfly, is a reference to their ferocity as predators.

All over Northern Europe, people believed dragonflies were associated with the supernatural. They were called Teufelsnadel in Germany, L’aiguille du Diable in France (both of which mean “Devil’s needle”), and Devil’s darning needle in England. In Wales, the name was Snake Doctor, in the belief that if a snake was injured the dragonfly would fly over and sew it up. Clearly all of these refer to the dragonfly’s long, thin shape.

In Sweden, people thought dragonflies looked like a scale, and believed the Devil used them to weigh people’s souls. If a dragonfly flew around your head, that was bad luck because the Devil might be coming to get you!

People in Northern Europe also believed that dragonflies were a hazard to the eyes. Thus some dragonflies were called Blindsticka (Sweden), Oyenstikker (Norway) or Augenstecker (Germany). The Norwegian Orsnildra is harder to translate but appears to involve poking holes in one’s eardrums.

More charming is the folk belief that dragonflies could act as steeds for fairies and similar creatures. So we have the Spanish Caballito del Diablo (Devil’s horse), Swedish Trollslanda (Hobgoblin fly) and German Hollenrosse (Goddess’s horse).

Cultures in Asia also have legends about dragonflies. In Japan, the famous samurai warriors took these insects as symbols of agility and power in battle. When they saw dragonflies, they took is as an omen of victory. Dragonflies, or Tonbo, are most visible during summer and fall in Japan. They are an artistic and visual representation of those seasons, in much the same way Americans might use sunflowers or autumn leaves.

In China, meanwhile, Quingting (dragonflies) were thought to foretell harmony, prosperity, and good luck. This makes sense if you consider that dragonflies can’t live without water, a substance that’s also crucial to people, livestock and crops. If there was enough water for dragonflies, everyone would be thriving.

Possibly for similar reasons, there were Native American tribes that believed dragonflies foretold freedom, happiness and purity. Perhaps they couldn’t see that the dragonflies were hunting tiny insects, for they believed the dragonflies fed on the wind. Other tribes thought dragonflies had powers of illusion. Lakota warriors might call upon the spirit of Tannicala Tusweca (Dragonfly) to trick their enemies during a battle.

Because dragonflies, like all insects, go through a metamorphosis, dream reading and other modern spiritual teaching holds them as emblems of change, growth, and the shedding of illusions.

Personally, I like dragonflies because they look cool and they’re exciting to watch. My home is several miles from the nearest river, but every once in a while I get dragonflies cruising through my vegetable garden. I’m thrilled when I see them because I know my garden is healthy and productive for all kinds of life. Besides, how often do you see a dragon on the wing?

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Dragonflies are surely some of the most recognizable insects living today. They have an elegant body shape and sometimes vibrant colors. Many of them are large, and stand out among lesser bugs. They are fast and aggressive hunters. Those of us who are especially tasty to mosquitoes appreciate that!

Dragonflies need water to complete their life cycle. They begin as eggs laid in or near water. Upon hatching, they enter the water as larvae, or nymphs. Nymphs are voracious predators, attacking other insect larvae and even small tadpoles or fish. Depending on the species, they remain in this stage for a few months up to a few years. Eventually they emerge on reeds or similar vegetation. Being in the air causes them to start breathing. They split their skins and spread their wings as adult dragonflies. Mature dragonflies live only a few months before they mate, lay eggs, and begin the cycle again.

Dragonflies are an ancient breed. Fossils show that very large dragonflies lived in the Carboniferous Period, 300 million years ago. One of these is Meganeura, a giant dragonfly with a wing span of 65 centimeters (that’s just over 2 feet wide). Because we know dragonflies need water to survive, scientists infer that the Carboniferous was a wet or swampy period in Earth’s history.

Entomologists have debated why Meganeura and its relatives were able to grow so large. Some say the thick vegetation, which became our modern coal deposits, added more oxygen to the air. A higher oxygen content may have given dragonfly wings added lift. However, a similar-sized relative persisted into the Permian, when oxygen levels were lower. Another theory is that there were no birds or other aerial predators, and so the dragonflies were able to grow larger without becoming prey.

Dragonflies living today are not nearly so impressive, but they are still very noticeable. Cultures all over the world have folklore about dragonflies. I’ll talk about some of those legends next time.

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