Not so long ago, the tails of the dragonfly earned them the name of Horse stingers and Devils Darning Needle, where apparently dragonflies would sew up the eyes and ears of children as they slept. A dragonfly cannot sting of course, but people saw them flying around horse herds where horses suffered noticeably bloody bites from horseflies, and wrongly accused the dragonfly. I learned some time ago that some dragonflies can and will deliver an impressive pinch/puncture with its mandibles.
I ran the Environmental Investigators Camp in Charleston, SC in the 90’s, and one of our parent pleasing take homes was pictures of kids with dragonflies on their noses. I caught a rather large green darner and placed it on a boy’s nose, and he screamed bloody murder. It had pierced and bloodied both sides of the bridge of his nose with its mandibles, which bled for an inordinate amount of time and swelled up quite impressively. That was the sad end of dragonfly pictures and perhaps the beginning of one group of children’s lifelong fear of dragonflies.
Now a short but necessary side trip into Greek mythology. Nymphs (think beautiful, alluring, vengeful, spiteful, scantily clad, and easy to anger young maidens) were minor deities, associated with some aspect of nature. A naiad was considered to be a freshwater nymph. In biology, a nymph is an immature stage of an insect which will metamorphose into a different adult form. A naiad, in biology, is the same thing but has an immature stage that lives in the water.
A dragonfly starts its life as a naiad, with an aquatic immature stage that can last a few months up to two years. A dragonfly naiad is carnivorous and has a modified mouth part that is like a spring-loaded trap. Their “lower lip” is elongated and jointed and folds nicely under the head. When prey, up to minnow size, swims by, the “lip” flips out and hooks on the tip sink into the prey and bring it back to the mouth for eating. My kids and I were doing some aquatic sampling together and they were quite impressed when I pulled the “lip” down with my fingernail to show them. Both firmly declined to try to do it.
After molting several times, a naiad climbs out of the water to shed its skin one final time and begin its life as the adult dragonfly we know and love. Adult dragonflies live, on average, about a month and they spend this time voraciously consuming mosquitoes, midges and mites, thus it is sometimes rightly called the mosquito hawk. Their adaptations include eyes with up to 30,000 lenses, compared to our one, which gives them almost a 360 degree field of vision. Their legs come with spines and dangle down in a basket shape to trap insects in the air and the dragonfly dines while it flies. They are also fast fliers with average speed being in the 20-mph range.
Mating is an acrobatic, somewhat bizarre affair, that is best seen while described or it can be hard to visualize. That they have been around for some 300 million years is proof of its effectiveness but still, it seems a tad rough. Hit the video to see them in all their mating weirdness. Parents beware, there is strong sexual content of the insect kind here.
Big kudos to the first person who sends me a picture with a dragonfly on their nose!
Know more to see more,
The Umstead Coalition is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
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