is a type of insect belonging to the order Odonata, the
suborder Epiprocta or, in the strict sense, the infraorder Anisoptera
It is characterized by large multifaceted eyes, two pairs of strong
transparent wings, and an elongated body.
Dragonflies are similar to damselflies, but the adults can be
differentiated by the fact that the wings of most dragonflies are held away
from, and perpendicular to, the body when at rest. Even though dragonflies
possess 6 legs like any other insect, they are not capable of walking.
Dragonflies are valuable predators that eat mosquitoes, and other small
insects like flies, bees, ants, and butterflies. They are usually found
around lakes, ponds, streams and wetlands because their larvae, known as
"nymphs", are aquatic.
Nymphs can deliver a painful bite when threatened. The wound should be
cleaned thoroughly to prevent water-borne infections.
Female dragonfly lay eggs in or near water, often on floating or emergent
plants. When laying eggs, some species will submerge themselves completely
in order to lay their eggs on a good surface. The eggs then hatch into
nymphs. Most of a dragonfly's life is spent in the naiad (that is, nymph)
form, beneath the water's surface, using extendable jaws to catch other
invertebrates or even vertebrates such as tadpoles, fish, etc. They breathe
through gills in their rectum, and can rapidly propel themselves by suddenly
expelling water through the anus.
Some nymphs even hunt on land,
an aptitude which could easily have been more common in ancient times when
terrestrial predators were clumsier.
The larval stage of large dragonflies may last as long as five years. In
smaller species, this stage may last between two months and three years.
When the larva is ready to metamorphose into an adult, it climbs up a reed
or other emergent plant. Exposure to air causes the larvae to begin
breathing. The skin splits at a weak spot behind the head and the adult
dragonfly crawls out of its old larval skin, pumps up its wings, and flies
off to feed on midges and flies. The adult stage of larger species of
dragonfly can last as long as five or six months.
Dragonflies and damselflies
Damselflies (suborder Zygoptera) are often confused with dragonflies, but
these are distinct; most damselflies hold their wings at rest together above
the torso or held slightly open above (such as in the family Lestidae),
whereas most dragonflies at rest hold their wings horizontally or
occasionally slightly down and forward. Also, the back wing of the dragonfly
broadens near the base, caudal to the connecting point at the body, while
the back wing of the damselfly is similar to the front wing. The eyes on a
damselfly are apart; in most dragonflies the eyes touch. Notable exceptions
are the Petaluridae (Petaltails) and the Gomphidae (Clubtails).
Dragonflies in culture
In Europe, dragonflies have often been seen as sinister. Some English
vernacular names, such as "devil's darning needle" and "ear cutter", link
them with evil or injury.
A Romanian folk tale says that the dragonfly was once a horse possessed by
the devil. This is also seen in the Maltese culture as the word for
dragonfly which is "Debba ta' l-infern" literally means Hell's mare.
Swedish folklore holds that the devil uses dragonflies to weigh people's
Swedish legend holds that trolls use the dragonflies as spindles when
weaving their clothes (hence the Swedish word for dragonfly trollslända,
lit. "troll's spindle") as well as sending them to poke out the eyes of
The Norwegian name for dragonflies is "Øyenstikker", which literally means
Eye Poker and in Portugal they are sometimes called "Tira-olhos" (Eye
They are often associated with snakes, as in the Welsh name
gwas-y-neidr, "adder's servant".
The Southern United States term "snake doctor" refers to a folk belief that
dragonflies follow snakes around and stitch them back together if they are
injured. The Lithuanian word
"Laum žirgis" is a composite word meaning "the Lauma's horse", while in
Dutch, Aeshna mixta is called "Paardenbijter" or "horse biter". In
some South American countries, dragonflies are also called matacaballo
(horse killer), or caballito del diablo (devil's little horse), since
they were perceived as harmful, some species being quite large for an
In East Asia and among Native Americans, dragonflies have a far better
reputation, one that can also be said to have positively influenced modern
day views about dragonflies in most countries, in the same vein as the
insect's namesake, the dragon, which has a positive image in the east,
but initially had an association with evil in the west.
For some Native American tribes they represent swiftness and activity,
and for the Navajo they symbolize pure water. Dragonflies are a common motif
in Zuni pottery; stylized as a double-barred cross, they appear in Hopi rock
art and on Pueblo necklaces.
It is said in some Native American beliefs that dragonflies are a symbol of
renewal after a time of great hardship.
They also have traditional uses as medicine in Japan and China. In some
parts of the world they are a food source, eaten either as adults or larvae;
in Indonesia, for example, they are caught on poles made sticky with
birdlime, then fried in oil as a delicacy.
Vietnamese people have a traditional way to forecast rain by seeing
dragonflies: "Chuồn chuồn bay thấp thì mưa, bay cao thì nắng, bay vừa thì
râm" (Dragonflies fly at low level, it is rainy; dragonflies fly at high
level, it is sunny; dragonflies fly at medium level, it is shadowy).
In some parts of the world it is considered lucky to have a dragonfly
land on you, even to the point of yielding seven years of good luck.
In the United States dragonflies and damselflies are sought out as a
hobby similar to birding and butterflying, known as oding, from the
dragonfly's Latin species name, odonata. Oding is especially popular
in Texas, where 225 out of a total of 457 known species of odonates in the
world have been observed. With care, dragonflies can be handled and released
by Oders, unlike butterflies.
The band, Coheed & Cambria, uses a dragonfly as one of their symbols.
Images of dragonflies were common in Art Nouveau, especially in jewelry
designs. They have also been
used as a decorative motif on fabrics and home furnishings.
In Japan dragonflies symbolize "martial success," due to similarity in
the sound of the word "dragonfly" and "victory" in Japanese. As a seasonal
symbol, the dragonfly is associated with late summer and early autumn.
More generally, in Japan dragonflies are symbols of courage, strength,
and happiness, and they often appear in art and literature, especially
haiku. In ancient mythology, Japan was known as Akitsushima, which
means "Land of the Dragonflies". The love for dragonflies is reflected by
the fact that there are traditional names for almost all of the 200 species
of dragonflies found in and around Japan.
Japanese children catch large dragonflies as a game, using a hair with a
small pebble tied to each end, which they throw into the air. The dragonfly
mistakes the pebbles for prey, gets tangled in the hair, and is dragged to
the ground by the weight.
Also, in Japan, amongst the Three Great Spears of Japan is one which is
called the Tonbogiri, which when translated is called 'The Dragon Fly
Cutter'. The spear is an important part of Japan's imperial regalia - the
spear itself was once wielded by the legendary Samurai, Honda Tadakatsu. Its
name is derived from the story that the blade is so sharp, a dragonfly once
landed on it and was instantly cut in half.