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Facts and Myths about Dragonflies

Updated on December 23, 2014

Is a dragonfly a friend or foe?

Dragonflies are fascinating creatures, and there is a lot of mystery and myth surrounding them, such as believing dragonflies were once dragons. Although fossils indicate that they may have had wingspans of up to 24 inches, today they are nowhere near that size, with wingspans averaging two to five inches.

Most scientists contend that dragonflies have been around 300 million years. In more recent years many rumors have been spread about these flying wonders. Let’s see if we can separate fact from fiction and shed some light on the life of a dragonfly.

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How fast do dragonflies fly?

Dragonflies really whiz along, but just how fast can they fly?

True or False? Dragonflies can fly 20 miles per hour.

True! While one researcher named Tillyard claims to have recorded a Southern Giant Darner flying at a speed of 60 mph, dragonflies are more commonly recorded flying between 22-34 mph. Still very impressive!


How many types of dragonflies are there?

They all kind of look the same, but how many species of dragonfly are there?

Ture or False: There are 200 species of dragonfly.

False - there are way more! There are over 5000 species worldwide, with the majority found in remote tropical areas of the world. There are around 450 varieties found in North America.


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A gnawing question--Do dragonflies bite?

Many people contend that dragonflies not only bite humans but they also bite horses.

True or False. Dragonflies bite.

False-kind of. Dragonflies do dot bite people or horses, but they do "bite" their food. In the scientific classification, dragonflies belong to the order Odonata, from the Greek word meaning “tooth” or “toothed one”, but they don’t have actual teeth. They have a miniature saw-like ridge along the edge of their mouth to grasp and grind their food. Their mouths are able to open as wide as their head, so it is conceivable that one could try to chomp down on you if you were to intentionally irritate it, but it is not likely it would even break the skin. And when you see them buzzing around horses they are probably eating insects that actually bother the horse. So a bite from a dragonfly is not anything to even be concerned about.

Symbolism of Dragonflies

Attribute
Symbolic Meaning
 
Eyes
Ability to see "beyond" and in greater depth
 
Wings/Flight
Versatile, swift
 
Life Cycle
Due to it's unique lifespan, the dragonfly can symbolize living in the moment
 
Lives on land, water, air
Adaptable, can live comfortably anywhere
 

A picture is worth 1000 words

You can often see dragonflies as decoration on fabrics or accessories, but are there any beliefs surrounding dragonflies?

True or False: There is much symbolism associated with dragonflies.

True. Throughout the world, the dragonfly is used to symbolize change, especially in regard to emotional and mental understanding of the deeper meaning of life. It also represents going beyond the surface and looking deeper into things.

As a symbol of joy, rebirth, victory and strength, it has been adopted as the national emblem of Japan.

Dragonfly Eyes

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How well do dragonflies see?

Dragonflies have big disco ball eyes, but can they see?

True or false: Dragonflies have excellent eyesight.

True. Compared to the common housefly that has about 6,000 facets on each eye, dragonflies have nearly 30,000 of these faceted lenses per eye. They have special neurons that combine all of those individual images into a single visual image. Due to the spherical shape of their eyes, they can see nearly 360' around them. In addition to having an extremely clear picture of their surroundings because of these multi-facets, they are able to process different light spectrums like UV light and polarized light.

Dragonfly Kin

True or False: A damselfly is a female dragonfly.

False. Damselflies are like cousins of the dragonfly. They are quite similar, although they do have some differences. If you look at them closely you will notice that damselflies have a more slender body while dragonflies are bulkier. On a damselfly the hind wings are about the same size as the front wings, whereas the hind wings of the dragonfly are broader. Another difference is how they hold their wings while at rest. Dragonflies exclusively place their wings straight out to their sides, but damselflies almost always fold their wings straight back over their body. Finally if you look closely at the head, the eyes of the dragonfly will usually meet in the middle whereas the eyes of the damsel fly will be separated.

Damselfly

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Other tidbits:


  • Dragonflies are beneficial because they eat an enormous amount of mosquitoes--a single dragonfly can eat hundreds of mosquitoes each day.
  • This same appetite can make them a nuisance to farmers and gardeners because they also eat bees and butterflies, which are necessary to pollinate garden plants.
  • Dragonflies are not silent when they fly, but actually make a loud buzzing or whirring noise.
  • Dragonflies are not in the same family as the housefly.
  • The Globe Skimmer dragonfly migrates up to 11,000 miles back and forth across the Indian Ocean.
  • A dragonfly gets its energy to fly from the warmth of the sun. If it gets cloudy they will rest to conserve energy.


Dragonflies don't bite, but do they sting?

We learned earlier that dragonflies do not bite. But do they sting?

True or False: Dragonflies sting.

False. Although their entire long body can resemble one big stinger, they have no stinging mechanism. Female dragonflies are able to slice open plant stems with their body so they can lay their eggs, so it is possible one could land on you, think you are a plant and try to deposit eggs. This, however, is highly unlikely!

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Are helicopters and dragonflies similar in flight?

Dragonflies and helicopters resemble each other, so maybe they fly the same too.

True or False. Dragonflies fly in all directions.

True. Dragonflies are expert fliers. We know that the dragonfly came first, so really the helicopter mimics the dragonfly. The dragonfly has four wings that are connected to the body independently and also operate independently from one another, allowing it to move forward and backward, sideways, up and down, and hover. They can even fly upside down! If a dragonfly is not able to fly they will starve because they only eat prey they catch while flying.

Where do dragonflies come from?

Adult dragonflies are often spotted near the water's edge, but do they have a greater link to the water?

True or False. Dragonflies live underwater when they are born.

True! After emerging from an egg which has been deposited within the stem of a plant, a dragonfly enters into the larval or nymph stage of their life cycle and will live underwater for about one year and sometimes up to five years! Ranging in size anywhere from 1/2 inch to 1-1/2 inches they are voracious predators during this stage, eating other insects, mosquito larvae, and even tadpoles and guppies!

Dragonfly Nymph

Dragonfly nymph.
Dragonfly nymph. | Source

How long does a dragonfly live?

So, they can spend years underwater as a nymph, but how long does an adult dragonfly live?

True or False: Dragonflies only live for a day.

False. Although some live for only a week or so, most live anywhere from one month to one year. They do have many predators that can cut their lifespan short. These include things such as fish, ducks, birds, water beetles, and even carnivorous plants.

Do dragonflies punish bad children?

Popular folklore holds that a dragonfly could sew up a human' slips, especially those of a child prone to telling lies. Is this True or False?

This is a big False! The fact that their body looks like a needle has led to one of the most widespread myths about these insects. At some point in history a frazzled parent must have threatened their child with this wild tale to keep them from acting up and to curtail any lying. Dragonflies neither bite, nor sting, nor sew up lips, nor attack humans in any way. They are not poisonous either as they have no type of venom.

Speaking of venom, there is also a belief that dragonflies protect snakes, warn them of predators, and sew them up when they are injured. This, too, is false.

Am I a dragonfly or a damselfly?

The dragonfly is in the top photo, the damselfly in the bottom photo.
The dragonfly is in the top photo, the damselfly in the bottom photo. | Source

Do you like dragonflies?

How do you feel about dragonflies?

See results

The Verdict on Dragonflies

Concerning whether dragonflies are friend or foe, the general consensus is that they are our friend! You may not like the way they look, and their flitting around may even annoy you, but there is really no reason to be afraid of them. With their shimmering beauty and their elegance in flight, they are quickly forgiven for any misconceptions, and remain contenders for one of the most amazing creatures around! So sit back, relax, and enjoy the delightful show they put on!

Comments

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    • Kappygirl profile imageAUTHOR

      Kappygirl 

      3 years ago

      Glad you enjoyed the hub RonElFran. I had fun researching the topic!

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I really enjoyed reading this, and now I know a lot more about dragonfiles than I ever knew before. Fascinating insects.

    • Kappygirl profile imageAUTHOR

      Kappygirl 

      3 years ago

      So glad you liked the hub! I like watching dragonflies too--they're mesmerizing. Thanks for stopping by :)

    • moonfairy profile image

      moonfairy 

      3 years ago

      Thanks for this informative hub....I myself love dragonflies and damselflies (just learned the difference because of your hub!). Their flight soothes me and I love watching them. I find them beautiful to look at =)

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