20 Dragonfly Facts, Pictures and Symbolism

Most insects are fairly small, but dragonflies, as their name suggests, can be great monsters, although undeniably beautiful to watch anyway! Here are 20 interesting Dragonfly; they are insects but giants in the insect world.

General Facts About Dragonflies

1. The dragonfly belongs to the order Odonata, with true dragonflies being suborder Epiprocta, infraorder Anisoptera, and damselflies being suborder Zygoptera. Odonata means ‘tooth-jawed’ (because it is!) and Anisoptera is from the Greek and means ‘uneven wings’, because the insect has two pairs of wings and its hind wings are broader and shorter than its fore-wings. The true dragonflies carry their wings stuck out at all times, while damselflies can be told apart from them by their four equal sized wings which they carry flat to their body when not in use.

See Also: 20 Amazing Dinosaur Facts 

Dragonfly
Image Credit: Look for Art

2. Dragonflies have been given many descriptive names around the world – in England, they are called ‘water dippers’, the Chinese call them ‘old glassy’ and they were known as the ‘big needle of wings’ by the ancient Celts! Another nickname is the ‘mosquito hawk’, because they hold the same position in relation to mosquitoes as the hawk does to mice. That is pretty helpful of them for humans.

Dragonfly Species

3. There are approximately 5,680 species of dragonfly and they can be found everywhere in the world except Antarctica. However, only a few hundred are found anywhere except the tropical zones (and most of those are in pretty remote areas).

4. The earliest dragonflies were around some 300 million years ago (therefore predating the dinosaurs by quite a bit) and may have been the first flying insects ever. What’s more, modern dragonflies, while much smaller, look very much as their distinct ancestors did, hardly changed at all in all that time.

Dragonfly Size

5. Most dragonflies fall into the average size range of around 3-4 in (7.6-10.1 cm) wingspan, but modern dragonflies such as the Costa Rican damselfly Megalopreprus caerulatus have been measured with wingspans of up to 7.5 in (19 cm), and back in the time of the dinosaurs they were *much* bigger – the largest fossil dragonfly found so far had a wingspan of 2ft 6 in (76 cm), making it the largest flying insect in history as far as we know.

6. At the other extreme, the smallest living dragonfly is probably the Southeast Asian Nannophya pygmaea, which is only 0.6 in (1.5 cm) long with a wingspan of about 0.78 in (2 cm).

Dragonfly Facts: Characteristics

7. A dragonfly’s main identifying characteristics are its two pairs of wings, as mentioned above, large many-faceted eyes that take up most of its head and a long thin body. It does have six legs, like most insects, but it isn’t very good at walking with them – it much prefers to fly, which it does very well and *very* fast. One Australian dragonfly was recorded doing 36 mph (~58 km/h) and claims have been made for speeds of up to 60 mph (96.5 km/h) but these have not been verified.

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Dragonfly Wings

8. The two pairs of wings of the dragonfly give it extraordinary power and mobility when flying. As well as normal forward movement, it can also fly backwards, sideways, up and down – or hover in one spot, all feats beyond most insects.

9. Unlike, for instance, bees, whose wings flap at about 300 times a second producing the distinctive buzz they are known for, dragonflies use their two sets of wings more effectively and therefore only have to flap them about 30 times a second to achieve flight.

10. The dragonfly’s distinctive and enormous eyes contain about 30,000 lenses each and between the two, give it almost total 360º vision and the ability to distinguish between ultraviolet, coloured and even polarised light, so they can see through reflections on water. However, human single-lens eyes see in much more detail, albeit only for the much smaller degree of vision we have with our ‘front-facing’ eyes.

11. The ‘old wives tale’ that the dragonfly has a poisonous sting and some people are allergic to this and can die if stung is a total fabrication. The protuberance at the back of male dragonflies that was thought to be a stinger is actually a clasper he uses to hold his chosen female during mating.

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Dragonfly Life Cycle and Lifespan

12. Because they prefer breathable, healthy water, dragonflies’ presence at a particular body of water is considered to be an indication of a ‘good’ water source. They are carnivorous predators, catching mostly mosquitoes but also just about any other insects, e.g ants, flies, gnats, bees, midges, wasps, moths and even the occasional butterfly. They will also catch tiny fish, tadpoles and other water-borne larvae.

13. Like males of most species, male dragonflies are very territorial and will defend their territory against all (male) comers, chasing off invaders whilst trying to attract females at the same time. If you see two dragonflies in a chase, it’s probably a male seeing off an intruder; but if the insects are flying whilst attached to each other, it’s probably a mating.

14. Dragonfly eggs can be laid singly or in clusters of anything up to several hundred, and hatch after around three to five weeks. The females lay them on or at the edge of a freshwater source, usually on floating plants or ones that are growing out of the water, and then abandon them completely.

15. The larval form looks more or less like an adult except for the lack of any wings and is as predatory to other small aquatic life as the adult is to other flying insects. It has expandable jaws that enable it to grasp larger prey than itself, a spike on its head that it uses to stab small fish and when it wishes to move fast it expels a jet of water from its rear end to propel it away.

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16. The nymph will shed its skin several times during its life underwater, finally crawling out of the water to shed it the last time and emerge as an air-breathing, winged adult. After spreading the new wings and ‘pumping them up’ with blood, the adult takes off to try them out and starts catching other flying insects almost immediately.

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17. Adult dragonflies only live for a short time, a few weeks to a few months depending on size, but the adult stage is but the last phase of its life; it will have spent anything from a few months to a few years in its larval form, the aquatic nymph or naiad, before going through a partial metamorphosis to become the adult dragonfly.

Dragonfly
Image Credit: National Trust for Scotland

Dragonflies and Us

18. There are some strange stories about dragonflies, such as the idea that it will sew shut the mouths of bad kids or the eyes of anyone who sleeps outside (giving rise to the nickname ‘devil’s darning needle’), or that it is a ‘snake doctor’, able to bring back to life the bodies of dead snakes. Neither of these is true, of course, and in fact, the dragonfly is not detrimental to humans in any way whatsoever! If anything it actually helps us, by cutting down the numbers of mosquitoes in its area – an adult dragonfly can catch and eat around 50 mosquitoes a day.

19. Dragonflies appear in many myths and legends, as well; in Native American lore, dragonflies are the souls of the dead; for some Native American tribes they are used to represent activity and swiftness, they symbolize pure water to the Navajo, and they appear on Zuni pottery, Pueblo necklaces and Hopi rock pictures. The Swedes believed the Devil used them to weigh the souls of people.

20. The Japanese and Chinese revere them as holy creatures and in fact, one of the traditional names of Japan itself is ‘Akitsushima’ or ‘The Dragonfly Isles’ – but they also use them in traditional medicine. On the other hand, the Indonesians catch them on sticky sticks, fry them in oil and eat them as a delicacy!

Dragonfly Symbolism

All around the world, various people hold the dragonfly to symbolize many different things but below is the most universally accepted dragonfly symbolism being upheld in various countries by different cultures.

Power and Agility: The dragonfly is believed to signify power and agility. This is translated mainly from its swift and agile body movements. Though it looks vulnerable, it is often difficult to catch.

Living in the Moment: The dragonfly lives and enjoys every bit of its life. Because it has such a short lifespan, it makes the most use of any stage of development it finds itself.

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Change and Adaptation: This insect easily adapts to any situation it finds itself in. Nature seems to have favoured it in this regard.

Connection with Nature: In so many cultures including the native American, their fairy-like nature easily earned them this status. They are presumed to be a perfect link to the fairy world and could mean the symbol of the departed soul. For the Japanese, dragonfly symbolizes autumn and summer and was used by the Samurai to depict power and victory.

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