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On gossamer wings

Posted on September 16, 2014 by Sunny South News

We were watching an exquisite dragonfly resting on a flower stem in my backyard.

Of course, the first question from my favourite (and only) grandson was, “it’s so pretty, will it sting me Nana?” Although I had never heard of anyone being bitten, I was not about to lose my reputation as a very smart lady, so I told him I would definitely find out more about this lovely creature.

As I was reading, I must admit I was amazed to discover the dragonfly is one of the most ancient insects. Fossilized impressions have been found in a British coalmine dating back over 300 million years, which even predates the dinosaurs. The wingspan measured two-and-a-half feet. Thank goodness we don’t have any that big in modern times or we would all be a little leery of them.

In the present day, the largest so far have been located in Costa Rica and have a span of seven-and-a-half inches (which would still be quite something to see). In Australia, the Southern Giant Darner is believed to be the fastest flying insect on the planet and can reach speeds of nearly 100 kilometres an hour.

Since there are over 5000 species, dragonflies are found on every continent in the world except Antarctica and are at home on land, in the air and in fresh water.

Biologically, they are not actually flies at all. Flies have only two wings whereas dragonflies have four, in sets of two — which can work independently. This permits them to manoeuvre quickly like a hummingbird — up, down, backwards and sideways. Their ball-shaped eyes allow them to see for a full 360 degrees and their neck muscles let them tilt their heads sideways, back and even down 40 degrees.

Perhaps because they have been with us for so many millennia, there are legends and myths associated with dragonflies in cultures all over the globe.

Native elders believe the dragonfly brings hope and joy with the dawn of each new day. Japanese legends see it as a sign of coming light (literally and figuratively) and the Samurai used it as a symbol of power, strength, agility and victory.

Because of their uninhibited vision, dragonflies have become an icon of changed perspectives and looking beyond the limitations of the human self to find deeper mental and emotional maturity and a deeper meaning of life.

Old Irish folklore portrays dragonflies as the horses of the fairies and say they bring dreams to reality, as a messenger of wisdom and enlightenment from other realms. Other mythologies describe dragonflies as reminders to humans to take time to reconnect with their own strength, courage and happiness; to embrace change and to live life to its fullest. That may explain why the dragonfly is becoming one of the most popular choices for tattoos, here in the twenty-first century.

But to get back to real reasons for all this research, I was delighted to confirm they neither bite nor sting. They use their powerful legs to capture their prey and an adult dragonfly can consume up to 50 mosquitoes in one day (which bodes well for areas subject to fevers such as West Nile, malaria, yellow and Dengue). They also feed on gnats, midges, ants and flies. Dragonfly larva is aquatic and requires breathable clean water to survive, which is another reason to celebrate their appearance in our area, as they have obviously found a healthy water source. Since at the adult stage they only live for several weeks or months, enjoy the beautiful metallic hues of this lovely messenger, as it basks in the sunshine of your garden.

It’s good news to see them in your yard.

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