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The Amazing Dragonfly

July 14, 2008

A close encounter with a dragonfly can cause a sting alert! The truth is that dragonflies do not sting at all.

Once when I was a boy, I was fishing with my grandfather. Dragonflies were flying all around.  One of them came especially close to me, and I was afraid. Then, it seemed to disappear from sight. 

My grandfather, who could see it, said, “Hold really still.  He is on the brim of your straw hat.  Hold really still.” 

I was not sure that I wanted to be that close to a dragonfly, but I did just as my grandfather had told me.  I became like a statue, and in just a few minutes, the dragonfly flew away. 

Until then I had not been catching any fish.

After the dragonfly took a place of rest on the brim of my hat, my grandfather said, “Now, you will catch fish.” 

Sure enough, within just a short time, I had a bass on the end of my line.  It was not a very big bass, but at least it was a fish.  Before the afternoon was over, I had caught several bream. 

Appalachian folklore says that if a dragonfly comes and lights while you are fishing, you are going to have good luck.  If the dragonfly does not stop, you might as well pack up and go home.  You are not going to catch any fish that day.  I don’t know if there is any truth to that, but it was a fact that day. 

Last week I saw a pair of blue dragonflies hovering above the pond in my garden. Dragonflies are predatory insects and are always welcome guests in our yard.  In fact, dragonflies are reputed to have a voracious appetite.  In half an hour’s time, they can consume their own weight in mosquitoes. 

 Dragonflies, also called snake doctors and darners, include 6000 varieties, each one unique.  People in England believed that falling asleep during the daytime was dangerous. They thought this insect with a body like a darning needle would sew your eyes shut.  That would be the penalty for laziness.  It’s enough to scare you out of an afternoon nap. 

Dragonflies have also been called horse stingers.  People thought that dragonflies actually stung the horses.  In fact, dragonflies were pursuing horseflies, the real pests.  Sometimes they have been called mosquito hawks; a name that really fits because of their preference for the little bloodsuckers. 

The Boeing Corporation in Seattle, Washington, has filmed dragonflies in flight. After taking a close look at this small insect, engineers were amazed at the aerodynamics.  They concluded that the dragonfly is a highly perfected flying machine. 

Some dragonflies fly at speeds up to sixty miles an hour. The average cruising speed for a dragonfly is about ten miles an hour.  They can fly backwards.  They can dart from side to side.  They can stop in mid-flight and hover.

The secret is the two pair of wings that work independently of each other.  The front two wings simply churn the air, creating disturbance.  The back two wings provide the stability. 

Whereas an aircraft tries to avoid turbulence, researchers say that the dragonfly creates turbulence, using it as an advantage. Engineers say that it is impossible to approximate this mechanically. Their conclusion is that the flying ability of the amazing dragonfly is superior to anything the Boeing Corporation can manufacture. 

The entire island of Japan was at one time called the Island of the Dragonfly. Legend has it that a gadfly bit a Japanese emperor.  No sooner had he been bitten than a dragonfly ate the gadfly.  The emperor saw that a friend, the dragonfly, had attacked the one who accosted him.  From that day forward, he decreed that the whole island of Japan be called the Island of the Dragonfly. 

Samurai warriors thought that the dragonfly was such a ferocious fighter that they wore leather helmets with the design of the insect etched on the front. 

The Lakota Indians of the northern Great Plains considered the dragonfly to be a fierce hunter. A dragonfly motif is common in Native American beadwork. The Navaho people of the desert southwest regarded the presence of a dragonfly as an indication of pure water, something very important to people who live in arid conditions.  They often incorporated the image of the dragonfly into their sand paintings.

 Like the butterfly, the dragonfly is a symbol of immortality. 

The life cycle of the dragonfly leads to this assumption.  Dragonflies mate in mid-air, quite a feat.  Eggs are deposited in the water.  Eventually the larvae crawl out of the water and attach to a reed.  Its skin becomes hardened, creating a cocoon. 

Then a transformation takes place.  Before long, the chrysalis splits.  A brand new body emerges from the dead shell.  The gauze-like wings unfold, and a colorful and sleek dragonfly takes to the air. 

No wonder the dragonfly has become a sign of new life!

At a graveside funeral service, I noticed that the wife of the deceased wore an attractive piece of jewelry on her black dress. The silver pin was crafted in the likeness of a dragonfly. One of her friends complimented her on the pin.

“My husband gave this to me,” the widow said. “It is a symbol of hope.”  

-Kirk H. Neely


© H-J Weekly, July 2008



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