Dragonflies and "Snake Doctors"

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.

Dragonfly(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 🙂

Available Now!


+ posts

69 thoughts on “Dragonflies and "Snake Doctors"”

  1. Hey Stacey. I’ve known them as dragonflies and snake doctors all my life, but there was a lot of information you dug up I had never heard before. Very cool.

    We have an insect here that I have always called a galleynipper, but it’s actually a crane fly. Lightning bugs and fireflies- I call them both.

    Oh, and while I was trying to find more unusual common nicknames of different insects I found out there are also some in the Odonata order known as damselflies. I’d never heard of those.

    Off the top of my head though I can’t think of any other nicknames at the moment. If I do think of anything else I’ll be back. 😉

  2. Hi Stacey! I love your logo, it really suits you. 🙂

    Growing up on a farm, I’ve seen tons of dragonflies. I never heard the term snake doctors. We used to be kind of scared of them, also in awe at the same time.

    Fascinating post! It’s an unusual topic.

  3. Very interesting! I never knew all that about dragonflies. I love the symbolism, and what a wonderful card your mom sent!

  4. Hi Stacey!

    What an incredible post. I loved the legends and I loved all the information. Truth told, I really don’t know very much about dragonflies. All I remember of them is being slightly frightened of them when I was young.

    I love your viewpoint and looking at how beautiful they are. I had no idea they were harmless either.

    You go there, with your deadline. : )

    Have a super day!

  5. Stacey, your logo is gorgeous. I’m amazed that there is so much lore on on a simple bug–no matter how pretty they are.

    I’m from the south and I’ve never heard the term ‘snake doctor’ for a dragonfly, but then my parents are yankees, so that might explain why. lol I’ve just always known them as dragonflies. My mom loves them and decorates with them. She even has them in and on her car. 🙂

  6. I remember as a little girl back in the 40s that we called them sewing needles! Once one landed on my arm , I screamed bloody murder, and my father came running down the block expecting to find who-knows-what – but not an insect! He didn’t find my explaination that it would sew up my mouth humorous (my older brother must have told me that tale…)

  7. I’ve always loved dragonflies, but I never knew they were called snake doctors until I read your article. I’m going to have to look up and read more about them now. You got me interested.

  8. You learn something new everyday. That is a lot of interesting info on dragonflies. Thanks for the great post.

  9. Stacey, I don’t know any lore and I had never heard the term snake doctors. But I do have a photograph I took myself that I’d love to share with you. I’ll send it to you.

  10. I live in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. I have seen swarms of the dragonflies in the yard. These aren’t pretty, but a unusual green color. Pretty to watch.

    Your logo fits you, Stacey. I am glad your Mom found the perfect card for you. Correct me if I am wrong – it worked!!!!!!!

  11. My mil puts out a nectar feeder for hummingbirds and is really aware of nature. She points out dragonflies and there’s a big moth around here that looks a lot like a hummingbird, and once in a while we get a real hummingbird.

    Dragonflies, what a great name for a big bug.

  12. Thank you, Karen! I’ve always been intrigued by dragonflies. Don’t recall ever beign fearful of them, but I was also and avid toad and lizzard hunter *LOL* I had no idea they were steeped in such legends until my cousin Diane told me about the term “snake doctors” 😀 Fun stuff!

    Thank you for the deadline cheers–I’m actually WRITING again, and it feels GREAT!

  13. Carla! Hi’ya sweetie! Isn’t the variety of dragonfly lore wild!? Funny thing is my mom and her cousin Diane (she told me about “snake doctors”) grew up on neighboring farms. But I hadn’t heard the term from my mom.

    Thanks for stopping in 🙂

  14. LOL, Karen!! Big brothers…mine has a birthday today *g*. Some of these legends are terrifying…even “dragonfly” sounds menacing 😉

    Thank you for sharing!!

  15. Fascinating blog, Stacey. When I was growing up we called them darning needles. My grandmother told us that if we said bad words they would sew our mouths shut (this is the same grandmother who told me that bread crusts would give me curly hair and that coffee would turn my knees black).
    FWIW I have the same attachment to butterflies as you do to dragonflies. I even have a little butterfly tattoo–but that’s a story for another time. Have a great weekend everybody!

  16. Thanks, Rebekah – glad you enjoyed the post! I had a hard time choosing what to post because there were so many great sites with interesting tid-bits. Gotta love Google 😉

  17. WOW, Cheryl!!! It’s gorgeous 😀 You’re quite the talented photographer!

    Thank you so much. Do you mind if I post the picture here when I announce my winner this afternoon?

  18. Too funny, Mary! We have hummingbird feeders too–but we also have swarms of hummingbirds. Now THOSE little things will poke your eye out *LOL* They buzz our heads when we go outside and sometimes hover right up to my kitchen window an watch ME while I wash dishes–they’re a lot of fun 😉

  19. I live in Arizona and when I took a History of Arizona class while in college, I remember studying the Navajo code talkers. As I recall, the dragon fly and mosquitos were used by the code talkers as a way of saying that water was near or little water was available.
    One sees alot of Indian jewelry with the dragonfly as its shape or theme.
    In the rock petroglyphs here in the Canyonlands of the southwest there are symbols of dragonflys carved there.

  20. Stacy, fascinating – and I admit to a childhood delight in the dragonfly too. They are beautiful and this is a timely reminder. And what a wonderful card from your Mom! Fabulous.

    I happen to have a book on Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams, and it states “Dragonfly is the essence of the winds of change, the messages of wisdom and enlightenment, and the communications from the elemental world.”

    Thank you! Great info.

  21. What a wealth of information. I grew up watching dragonfiles – or darning needles as my grandmother called them – at the small lake in Pennsylvania where I spent my summers. So beautiful and magical, I never thought of them as icky insects or anything bad. Just really cool bugs. I’ve just recently noticed them in my garden and yard on Long Island for the very first time and have marveled anew. I like the Japanese view of the noble dragonfly best. But it is the image of them as, literally, a tiny, flying dragon, that I find the most whimsical.

  22. Hi Stacey…I am so happy I got your curiousity going on the snake doctors. When I was a little girl we lived by a canal, and there were many dragonflies in the summer. (As I told you, your mom and I wore a path walking to each others house on the canal.) When my mother and father told me they were snake doctors,(we never called them dragon flies) I was a little bit afraid of them, but I can remember just staring at them and studying their wings and faces. Fascinating!
    This is my first time to blog, (Is that what I am doing?)
    Love you, Diane

  23. Hi Stacey,

    What wonderful information. I’ve seen dragonflies around all my life but didn’t know how fascinating they could be. I’m glad they eat mosquitoes because I hate those blood suckers.

    Wasn’t there a movie several years ago that was called “Dragonfly?” If I’m remembering the right movie the heroine dies and comes back in the form of a dragonfly. Maybe it starred George Clooney in one of his earlier movies? Or maybe I’m completely off base. I mainly remember that I cried like a baby.

    That book “The Bounty Hunter and the Heiress” looks wonderful! I saw it in Walmart but didn’t buy it. Shoot!

  24. I forgot to say how really sweet and thoughtful your mother is. That card she gave you was the most inspirational thing I’ve seen in a long time. Made my eyes tear up. Now, you have no excuse for not finishing your book.

  25. Diane!! Yes, you’re blogging, and I’m so glad you stopped by 😀 Thank you so much for the added information and for fueling my interest in “snake doctors” 😉

    For those who have my beaded dragonfly bookmarks, Diane and my mom have beaded a TON! Thanks, Diane ~ xo

  26. Hi Stacey and Good Morning! I didn’t know much about dragonflies, except I think they’re pretty!
    I grew up with fireflies in NY. They’d come out in the summer and we’d chase them around. The card your mom sent you was absolutely inspiring!
    Love it!

  27. HI Stacey!!!!!

    My cousin has a thing for dragonflies as well…her myspace name is “dragonfly” LOL..

    I have never heard a dragonfly called a snake doctor myself-and Im from AL (live in SC now)!

    I grew up calling fireflies “lightning bugs”..always have and always will call them that!

    Once when I was little..I remember my grandfather catching one of those HUGE bugs that fly around in the summer…I cant remember if he called it “June bug” or a “July fly”…however-he caught one and tied a very thing string around it’s body and let me hold on to it…it flew around and around with me holding the string…then, we caught him again and took the string off! That was a really cool bug experience for me and one that I’ll never forget!

  28. Hi Linda! I thought the same thing about the misquitoes–another reason to really love dragonflies *g*. I haven’t heard of the movie.

    My mom is the best–and yep–this is my FINISH THE BOOK weekend 😉

    “The Bounty Hunter and the Heiress” is a great book! I’ve only read a few of Carol Finch’s westerns, but this one is now my favorite–full of dusty adventure, a spunky heroine and the hero…to quote the book: “…as wild and untamed as the rugged Rocky Mountains–he looked formidable.” ::sigh:: I’m hooked–my kind of western 😉

  29. Hi Stacey,
    We don’t get too many dragonflies around us but your information was interesting. When I think of interesting insects I remember fireflies from when I was a kid and how we loved going out at night to watch them.

  30. This is an interest post about dragonflies. I didn’t know all the meanings about dragonflies. We have a Koi pond in our back yard that has a lot of dragonflies around it. I do love to watch them.

  31. I’m with Elizabeth on the butterflies. I have three tats and there’s a lot of symbolism behind them for me. I have butterfly stuff all over the house. I wrote a blog about my butterfly tats a few days ago on myspace. I’d love to hear Elizabeth’s story about hers. 🙂

  32. I also LOVE LOVE LOVE butterflies…I have always loved them so much!
    I have one butterfly tat between my shoulder blades on my back! Id love another!

  33. Hey Melissa D! Wow, your own giant bug on string..that is wild *LOL* What a great memory!

    Both my sisters have gorgeous tats and I’ve always wanted to get a dragonfly…maybe to celetrate book 10 🙂

    Stacey–who’s really wanting to see lightening bugs now 😉

  34. Hi Maureen! I’m starting to think I really missed out growing up here in California 😉 We’re going to have to choose our next vacation wherever they’ve got a healthy habitat of fireflies!

  35. Quilt Lady, your coi pond souds BEAUTIFUL. Our yard is torn apart right now as we’re remodeling, but I sure hope to have one outside my office window at some point–just the thought gives a feeling of serenity 🙂

  36. Hey there. Dragonflies, butterflies and lightning bugs aka fireflies are my favourite insects.

    It doesn’t matter how old we are, it just isn’t summer unles we spend one evening scouring the yard to see who can catch the first firefly. We use jars and lids w/holes but we don’t keep them for more a few seconds. Only enough time to ooh and awh and then it’s released and we all go inside marvelling at God’s creativity.

    One reason I love dragonflies is b/c the year they spend underwater after birth, they eat their fill of mosquito larvae and then for the month they’re alive above water, they eat their fill of mosquitos. Anything that eats the skeeters is a friend of mine.

    Other names for dragonflies:
    – Old Glassy in China
    – Water Dipper in England
    – Big Needle of Wings from the ancient Celts.

  37. Hi Stacey! Fascinating post about dragonflies! I’ve never heard them referred to as snake doctors. Thank you so much for all the info! I love learning new things!

  38. I’m not familiar with any lore in regards to the
    dragonfly, just have always been curious about the
    name “dragonfly” for a seemingly innocuous insect.
    I’ve always enjoyed seeing them glide through the air, presenting us with a glorious spectacle.

    Pat Cochran

  39. Hi Pat! Ya know, I didn’t find THAT answer *LOL* I didn’t spot anything that said where “Dragonfly” came from. Hmm?? Anyone know? Gonna have to check on that 😉

  40. Love the information, Stacey! I’m a native southerner and I’ve never heard seen a snake and dragonfly together, although if I saw the snake, I’d run.

    And your mom is right — finish that books, we need more Stacey Kayne books to read.

  41. Hidee, hi,
    I am a Southern boy living in paradise, the Great Smoky Mountains of East tennessee. We always called the damsel flies snake doctors. Damsel flies are certainly related to dragonflies since their physical appearenc is very similar. The adult damsel fly however is much smaller and rests with its wings folded back and above the body. They are seemingly a much more delicately crafted creature. The damsel fly’s wings are almost always a deep blue or maybe even black. They have a decidely metallic look. Glistening. I believe the reason they were called snake doctors is because they are frequently found in the shady areas along stream banks. You know, the “snakey” places.
    Like I said, I am a guy, but I love this web site. I reckon it’s on account of my great affinity fer them folks of the female persuasion!
    Be sweet,
    J. Ison

  42. hi there everyone i came here from a research on dragonflies.
    for the past week there has been like 1000s of them floating around my yard
    trying to see why there are here. my grandmother
    has passed I know she would have known as wise tale for them being here .

  43. Love the blog, had a personal moment with a dragonfly today, it may sound crazy but i have to share it. I went to visit my mothers grave & opened my car door immediatley a green dragonfly lands inside the car at the base of the car door, I am scared of insects period especially dragonflies (used to have a cousin run after me with them) but for some reason i didnt get starled this time. i looked at it & tried to make it fly away it didnt move until i got out of the car, then decides to follow me to my mothers grave. As I start to want to break down thedragonfly lands on the grave and my new found soulmate comes to see if i am ok, my son soon joined. That one dragonfly stayed around us landing on each grave my mom & grandparents then my soulmates right sneaker, he moved his foot and it still didnt move, looking around as if it was introducing himself to a welcomed stranger. it followed all us back to the car & again when i took my daughter out to the grave. I am curious to know what you think about this, do you think it has some meaning?

  44. Hello, Damselfly Comrades! I have just found your site and, while I plan to peruse it much more closely, my cursory look through the font page brings kudos to you! I wanted to mention that (as I learned while visiting New Mexico 7 years ago) the Hopi and Zuni people not only appreciate the Odonata but also (at least the Zuni) believe dragonflies are the messengers between our physical world and the spirit realm. (Both also are quite famous for their use of totems or fetish objects – so I quickly purchased an adorable stone fetish of my favorite winged critter…) Anyway, that ledged has stuck with me ever since – usually on a daily basis – and I have always found great comfort from the winged beauties, particularly when they appear at completely appropriate times (eg, as losing beloved family member and other such emotional/spiritual times). Just thought I’d quickly share this – and thank YOU for sharing your knowledge and love of ‘guldsmed’ (Danish word for our beloved insects). :o)

  45. Wow, something in the post just above my last caught my eye, so I had to quickly read it. And, of course, now I *must* re-post to reply to Tammie M. (and her July 5th, 2010 post). Tammy, I’m not sure what the Webmistress will say but, based on my limited understanding of Zuni legend (and my own experiences, similar to yours), I’d have to say that your Dragonfly may indeed have had some sort of message-delivery intentions…and, although I am NO gambler, I’d be willing to bet any communications would of course be from your dearly departed family members – and likely all were filled with love for you and word of blissful peace for them. Thank you for sharing your experience – and teach your children to be unafraid of cemeteries and take pride in tending loved ones’ graves. (I cherish my opportunity and privilege to do this very thing: and my daughter is only 2, but she loves to visit Gamma’s grave – seeing her kiss the photo on Mom’s headstone could bring the hardest heart to tears!)

  46. I live in the South and talking to my mom on the phone revealed I see a lot of dragonflies in my courtyard. She replied oh they are snake doctors that means there is a snake around. Well, it wasn’t a day later when a grey snake materialized. Ugh! I am most afraid of snakes.

Comments are closed.