Why Dragonfly Woman?

I use the name Dragonfly Woman for a lot of things.  Whenever I make something for someone (especially cards), I put my Dragonfly Woman stamp on it to indicate that I made it myself.  I have used it as a screen name for several things.  It’s just a good name for me.  So how did I get this name?  Good question!  To understand the origin of the name, I’ll first have to tell you about how I discovered and came to love entomology.

I was terrified of most insects as a young kid.  You would be too if you’d had some of the experiences I had.  My earliest memory of an insect was a palo verde beetle landing on my shoulder one night when I was in my back yard, innocently swinging on my  swing.  I think I was about 4 years old.  For those of you who are not from southern Arizona, palo verde beetles are huge, 2-3 inches long, have long legs with sharp claws and really massive mandibles that can pinch quite hard, and they have spines all over their thorax.  They are formidable insects:

palo verde beetle

This palo verde beetle was in my carport last summer.

So there I was, a helpless little kid, having fun in the yard, when this giant beast fell from the sky and landed on my shoulder.  I did what any self-respecting 4 year old girl does – I screamed bloody murder and raced around the yard flailing my arms trying to shake it off.  I was traumatized enough by that encounter that it impacted a camping trip to the Chirichaua Mountains my family made a year or two later.  My parents took us hiking and we came across a field filled to the brim with ladybugs.  There were ladybugs on pretty much any available surface, millions of them.  I refused to go anywhere near them because insects were scary and not to be trusted, even if they were cute little harmless ladybugs.  The fact that we got stung by wasps every single time we went to visit my aunt in Kansas only reinforced the idea that insects were something to be feared.

Somewhere along the line, I lost my fear of insects, at least the ones that really couldn’t hurt me.  One summer when I was 10 or 11, my neighbor across the street (a girl my age) and I decided we needed to make an insect collection.  We began haunting her mom’s garden, a haven of dill, squashes, and other veggies that attracted grasshoppers like mad.  We collected as many as we could, dispatched them in rubbing alcohol, and put them in a shoebox.  We caught hundreds.  And then we went around the neighborhood tricking the other girls into opening the lid to our box of horrors.  I am ashamed to admit that we were using our first insects for such dark purposes.  :)

The next summer, we decided to do things properly.  We got pins, several field guides from the library, and set out on a quest to make a fabulous insect collection.  We worked at it really hard and just about every day for a couple of summers.  It eventually spanned 5 boxes and included several non-insects such as spiders and centipedes.  We had a few mishaps – like spiders that weren’t completely dead when we pinned them and were casually walking around the collection box the next day – but we were proud of our work.  I was particularly thrilled by the activity and became more and more interested in insects.

Then one day I learned that the study of insects was called entomology and people actually got paid to do it!  My life changed that day.  I soon discovered a 4-H project in entomology and signed up for it.  I read the entire project manual the day it arrived and by the time I finished reading it, I knew I wanted to be an entomologist.  It was my first day of 9th grade and I already knew what I wanted to do with my life.  I have never regretted my decision.

Anax junius adult

Green Darner (Anax junius) male – notice the large wings and huge eyes!

So back to the original question: why Dragonfly Woman?  When I did my 4-H projects, I relished collecting the bugs that were showy, big, or hard to catch – things that made my collection stand out and look different from all of the others.  My favorite things to catch were the dragonflies because they were the biggest challenge to collect.  Dragonflies fly very quickly, have fantastic eyesight, and can maneuver like mad, so they can not only see you coming at them with a net, but easily dodge it most of the time.  I learned a lot about dragonflies simply by observing them while catching them and they have been among my favorite insects ever since.

I started grad school intending to study dragonflies.  I quickly discovered that I was the only person in my entomology department who knew much about them.  I was familiar with the literature and read a lot about dragonflies, so I became the expert of the department.  The secretary started directing calls and e mails concerning dragonflies toward me so that I could answer questions and provide information to the public.  As a result, people started calling me the Dragonfly Woman.  Every now and again someone would end up at my office door asking. “Are you Chris?  They tell me you’re the Dragonfly Woman.”  I was thrilled to have the nickname!   Nevermind that I ended up studying a different aquatic insect or that I don’t get to work with dragonflies nearly as much as I’d like to anymore.  I am the Dragonfly Woman and always will be.  I’ll work with dragonflies again too.

Soon after I started grad school, I read one of my many books on dragonflies and came across a reference for a paper about sand flies in Australia.  Several new species were named in the paper and one of them was named after Coon Undura, an Aboriginal mythical being that translates into English as the dragonfly woman.  The paper didn’t go into specifics about how she figured into the Aboriginal belief system or what Coon Undura represented and/or did, but I was thrilled.  I share a nickname with a mythological character!  I then started to wonder what Coon Undura might have looked like, and I eventually created a block print of my interpretation of her.  The Dragonfly Woman logo you see around my site is a scan of that block print.

The Dragonfly Woman is a fitting name for me.  Between the photographs/scans, my book collection, my home decor, the stickers and license plate on my car, my accessories and clothing, and many crafty and/or artistic projects that highlight  my love for dragonflies, I am the dragonfly woman.  And I am thrilled to be starting this blog!  I hope you enjoy it!


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