Daily Archives: November 2, 2012

Friday 5: Scary Myths About Dragonflies

It’s Friday once again, so it’s time for another Friday 5!  Today I bring you five myths about dragonflies.  Because Halloween just passed, I’m going to focus on the negative myths about dragonflies.  As a dragonfly lover and researcher, I find these myths fascinating because they don’t jive with my impression of dragonflies at all.  I can’t get enough of them, so I hope you all enjoy the five evil dragonfly myths I selected for you!

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Myth #1: Dragonflies sew your ears shut while you sleep.

Ever wonder why so many dragonflies are called darners?  Their name comes from an old European myth, one of those stories that people would use to scare their children into behaving: that dragonflies sew your ears shut while sleep as a punishment for wrongdoings.  This myth has resulted in some colorful ideas about what dragonflies can and can’t do that have persisted into modern times.  In some parts of the US, people are still certain that dragonflies will sew your ears shut or sew your lips shut (as a punishment for using profanity for example) or sew your fingers together as you sleep.  Allow me to set the record straight: dragonflies are not seamstresses/tailors.  They don’t run around with little sewing needles and thread attempting to sew any of your body parts closed or together.  Your orifices are not in any sort of dragonfly induced danger.

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Myth #2: Dragonfly stings are HORRIFICALLY poisonous.

I am constantly surprised by how many people think that dragonflies are stingers.  If you are really worried, hopefully this will help: the ONLY insects that can sting are in the order Hymenoptera, the ants, bees, and wasps.  Dragonflies are in the order Odonata, which is vastly older than the Hymenoptera and quite different.  Dragonflies are thus INCAPABLE of stinging and have no venom.  It’s likewise impossible to get sick from a dragonfly “sting.”

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Myth #3: Dragonflies are in league with the devil

You’ll notice the trend toward evil dragonfly myths in American and European culture  and this is certainly one of the worst of the bunch.  An old Swedish myth suggested that dragonflies were used by the devil to weigh men’s souls.  A dragonfly flying around your head was considered a very bad omen because the insect was weighing your soul and placing you on a demonic “naughty or nice” list for Satan.  Europeans in general considered dragonflies evil creatures who colluded with the devil and those myths eventually arrived in the US.  The common name “snake doctor” is still in common use in the US, especially in the Midwest, and refers to the supposed pact between dragonflies and the devil (often depicted as a snake).  You’ve got to love a good European myth.  Those guys really knew how to scare people straight!

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Myth #4: If a Dragonfly Is Present, Fish Will Not Bite

This is another one of those dragonflies weighing your soul sorts of myths.  According to one legend, dragonflies will fly among children who are fishing and decide whether they are good or bad.  If they’re bad, the dragonflies will scare all the fish away, but the dragonflies leave the fish for the good children to catch.  In another legend, dragonflies scare all fish away for all fishermen because they are, once again, in league with the devil and are out to cause mischief in the world.  I was a terrible fisherwoman as a kid, but I never remember seeing any dragonflies in the area at all.  Clearly my ill fishing luck wasn’t caused by any large, flying insects.  Personally, I blame myself and not the pretty little bugs, but that’s just me.

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Myth #5: Dragonflies are represent supernatural beings and should be left alone at all costs

This myth is common in the Pueblo Native American tribes of the southwestern US.  In many of their myths, dragonflies represent gods or supernatural beings capable of causing great harm to anyone who disturbs them.  In one of the Kachina celebrations of the Hopi, the dragonfly Kachina runs after people and whips them with a yucca whip.  It is also considered bad luck for a pregnant woman to gaze into the eyes of a dragonfly Kachina because her child will be born with eye problems.  I shared the Zuni dragonfly myth with you all in the past and dragonflies are not considered evil according to their beliefs.  However, killing or harming a dragonfly is akin to killing or harming a god and supposedly brings bad things onto whoever is unlucky enough to do so.

Ah, you have to love a good evil dragonfly myth!  Dragonflies get a bad rap because of these sorts of myths and here in US it seems that a lot of this misinformation is still passed down through families.  Dragonflies really aren’t evil creatures.  If anything, I think dragonflies are a good sign.  They’re eating the little biting insects you don’t like (such as mosquitoes), are often a good indications that there is clean water nearby, and are fascinatingly beautiful creatures to watch.  Someday I’ll do a post about the happy dragonfly myths from Asia to counterbalance this one.  They’re so much less doom and gloomy than the European ones – and a lot closer to real life too.

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