Dragonflies are popular insects today, but they haven’t always been. In some European folklore, dragonflies were associated with snakes and the devil. They were called “the devil’s darning needles”. Children were warned that if they were lying, a dragonfly would come and sew up their mouth. The long abdomen of dragonflies was mistakenly thought to be a stinger. Another common name for dragonflies was “horse-stingers”.

In much of eastern Asia, people have always liked dragonflies. Perhaps this is because they associate dragonflies with their staple food, rice. Rice is grown in water-filled fields called paddies, which are great habitat for dragonflies.

In Japan, dragonflies are very popular. They are important symbols in Japanese art and poetry. Samurai often used dragonfly designs on clothing, helmets and swords. Another name for Japan is “Akitsushima” which means “dragonfly island”. Japan was the first country to establish a dragonfly nature reserve, the Dragonfly Kingdom, in Nakamura.

In the legends of many North American First Nations, dragonflies carry the spirits of the dead. They share the butterfly’s symbolism of immortality and rebirth. Dragonflies are thought to parallel people as both come out of the water at birth and neither can go back to being a water baby.

People often think that some insects, like mosquitoes, flies and termites, are “bad”, while others, like butterflies, honey bees and dragonflies are “good”. Bad insects bite us, damage our property or food and spread disease. Good insects are beautiful to look at, help make our foods, or eat the bad insects. But really, they are all just “insects”, each kind trying to survive in its own way.

Today, people seem to like dragonflies for their beauty and their mastery of flight. “Dragonfly watching” is now a popular pastime, aided by the many books and web sites extolling the Odonata. Many people like dragonflies because they eat insect pests, like mosquitoes and horse flies. While this is true, it is important to remember that dragonflies don’t have a big impact on insect pest populations. [Refer back to: Mosquito Control?]

Evidence that our modern society appreciates dragonflies can be found everywhere. Dragonflies adorn all sorts of things: clothing, wallpaper, jewelry, stamps, art work and commercial designs.

Even in earlier times, when they may have been less popular, dragonflies could still inspire people. Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote "The Dragon-fly" in 1833:

Today I saw the dragon-fly
Come from the wells where he did lie.
An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk: from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail.
He dried his wings: like gauze they grew;
Thro' crofts and pastures wet with dew
A living flash of light he flew.

And here's some lyrics from a modern day songwriter, Ziggy Marley, from his 2003 song "Dragonfly":

hey mister bee the world change but you remain the same
and i wonder how you'll survive with the environment going down the drain
hey miss dragonfly i see you look at me with your beautiful eyes
you must be wondering what type of creature am i

Dragonfly enthusiasts, or Odonatists, have come up with some rather "inspired" names for their favourite fliers. The Ebony Bog Haunter, Zigzag Darner, River Jewelwing, Twelve-spotted Skimmer, Rusty Snaketail, and Beaverpond Baskettail are all dragonflies found in Manitoba.

1) Basic Biology

2) Life Cycle

3) Palaeobiology

4) Biodiversity

5) Biogeography

6) Overwintering / Migration

7) Food

8) Sight and Flight

9) Cultural Significance

10) Conservation

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