As my logo may indicate, I love dragonflies. Growing up in the country I was surrounded by them in the summertime–the tiny blue ones, the giant green ones–they’ve always been my favorite insect. When coming up with a logo I wanted something I’d enjoy seeing and sharing with others and since I write dusty westerns I asked my graphic designer to give my personal dragonfly a snake-like tail. He did, and I love it.
Not long after, my cousin saw my logo and said “Oh, Snake Doctors!” I had never heard the term and was instantly fascinated. She told me that while growing up her whole family called dragonflies “snake doctors” and she’d never heard the term dragonfly until she was much older. This got me to wondering about dragonfly lore. If there’s anything I love as much as westerns and dragonflies it’s lore, myths and legends! Must be the storyteller in me, but I love Greek Mythology and while researching Indian tribes and cultures I became fascinated with Native American folklore. Surely the term “snake doctors” had to be connected to some interesting legend. Well, my search did not disappoint. In fact, dragonflies are connected to a variety of lore and legends all around the world!
Some Dragonfly Lore accordiing to Wikipedia:
- 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. (Seems in the south when dragonflies are about snakes are nearby *g* )
- In Europe, dragonflies have often been seen as sinister and known 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 souls. Another 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 their enemies.
- The Norwegian name for dragonflies is “Øyenstikker”, which literally means Eye Poker. They are often associated with snakes, as in the Welsh name gwas-y-neidr, “adder’s servant”.
- The Lithuanian word “Laumžirgis” 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 horse), since they were perceived as harmful, some species being quite large for an insect.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Vietnamese people have a traditional way to forecast rain by seeing dragonflies: Dragonflies fly at low level, it is rainy; dragonflies fly at high level, it is sunny; dragonflies fly at medium level, it is shadowy.
Some Dragonfly Facts:
- A dragonfly 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 our largest and most ancient of insects.
- Dragonflies typically eat mosquitoes, and other small insects like flies, bees, ants and butterflies. They are therefore valued as predators, since they help control populations of harmful insects.
- Dragonflies are usually found around lakes, ponds, streams and wetlands because their larvae, known as “nymphs”, are aquatic. Adult dragonflies do not bite or sting humans.
Also found a fun article on Clinton Journal, here’s a short clip:
“Glimmering, shimmering, glittering, shining, iridescent – these graceful children of the sun are especially loved for the beauty of their long membranous wings and colorful bodies. Their brilliant colors, bold, acrobatic flight, complex behaviors, and ubiquity around bodies of water in mid-summer are making them increasingly popular subjects for study.
A dragonfly can hover, fly sideways, stop on a dime, change direction, and even spurt backwards at astonishing speeds. Rather than slipping air smoothly over sleek airfoils as birds do, dragonflies create furious vortices which swirl much faster than the surrounding airflow around the surface of the wings. The speed of the air immediately adjacent to the wing produces lift in both planes. The wings vibrate as fast as sixteen hundred times per minute, allowing the dragonfly to reach speeds of over thirty miles per hour…
Ferocious, voracious, carnivorous, insatiable – darting above the prairie, dragonflies are searching for food. The “Odonates,” the toothed ones, are voracious predators with serrated jaws. Plucking winged pests from the air, devouring them in flight with an almost insatiable appetite, the dragonfly captures and eats hordes of flying insects by skimming through the air, scooping up its victims in a basket formed by spine-fringed legs.”
For those who stop in over at this may be repeated info, but last week my mom sent me a card that rekindled my focus on dragonfly lore. When I opened the card and saw this gorgeous hand painted dragonfly on the front I thought, “My mom is the best.” (She really is *g*). I read on, expecting a delightful birthday message. But what I found was this:
Having flown the earth for 300 million years, dragonflies symbolize our ability to overcome times of hardship. Sighting a dragonfly is meant to remind us to take time to reconnect with our own strength, courage and happiness.
(on the inside:) You’ll get past this, your heart lifted by dragonfly wings. Followed by a handwritten “Get this book done! The dragonfly will help to give you strength and reconnect. I have faith in you. ~Love Your Mom”
Needless to say, THIS has become my favorite of all the dragonfly lore I’ve uncovered so far 🙂
What about you? Do you know dragonflies by any other name? Any interesting nature terms or nicknames or insect lore in your neck of the woods that may be new to an easterner, westerner or southerner?
Today one comment poster will win a copy of THE BOUNTY HUNTER AND THE HEIRESS – a great western by Carol Finch!
Wishing Y’all a dragonfly sighting 🙂