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!
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.
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.”
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!
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.
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.
22 thoughts on “Friday 5: Scary Myths About Dragonflies”
Fascinating! I never have heard any dragonfly myths.
There are tons of them! I think they’re great.
I always wondered how the name “darner” came about – thanks. What’s really scary about those myths is that some people still believe them!
Yep! There are lots of people who still believe these. Seems odd that we live in such an enlightened, information rich world and these ideas are still floating around out there…
Japan loves dragonflies, of course, and one of the traditional names for Japan translates to “dragonfly islands”.
Yes! I think it’s a beautiful name for a chain of islands.
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Just found your blog, and have subscribed. I’m an amateur photographer and often shoot dragon and damsel flies on my lake. Early in the morning there are many dragonflies emerging from the nymph state, and I can shoot them when they are drying prior to first flight. Never heard any of those myths, they are most amusing! You might enjoy this post http://smcbphoto.com/2011/11/23/damsels-and-dragons/
So glad you enjoyed the myths! And thanks for the link too. It was fun seeing your great emergence photos!
Are bees and dragonflys similar in any way?
Well, they’re both insects, so they’ve got the standard insect things in common – three body segments, jointed leg, two antennae. Both types of insects have two pairs of wings as well. However, they’re quite different otherwise. Dragonflies have their wing muscles attached directly to their wings while bees do not. They also can’t fold their wings flat over their backs the way bees do. Dragonflies are aquatic for most of their lives while bees are never aquatic, and the two groups have two different types of metamorphosis (hemimetabolous in dragonflies, holometabolous in bees). Dragonflies have been around quite a bit longer than bees too, by a good 50-100 million years. They’re quite different!
The one about dragonflies being in lesgue with the devil had me laughing hard out loud! :-D
Yeah, I’m quite fond of that idea. You have to wonder where these ideas came from in the first place!
I don’t always read your posts promptly and I seldom click the “Like” button, but I really enjoy what you write and I have learned a lot. Thank you.
Thank you so much! What a lovely compliment.
I’m astonished by the wealth of myths focusing on the supposed evils of dragonflies. Toads, okay, I can understand, or even the idea that cats suck the breath from newborn babies–but dragonflies? They’re such stunningly light and beautiful creatures (unless you’re their prey, and humans are quite safe) that I can’t believe anyone wouldn’t respond to that. Are there any positive dragonfly myths about them being bringers of light and luck?
Oh yes, there are good myths too! They’re mostly Asian, but they’re all about dragonflies being symbols of spring and renewal and life rather than the doom and gloom European myths. I’ll do a post on the happy dragonfly myths at some point too, but I thought that the recent holiday made the darker myths more appropriate.
Really instructive post! i never heard about these myths. Thank you! I love dragonflies too! I hope someday there’s a movie or book that could make them look cool and loveable.
There are quite a few good resources available that promote dragonflies. If you have a chance to take a look at Dazzle of Dragonflies, I think it is an absolutely amazing book!
Good ones! The only one I ever heard when growing up in New England was that it was a state law that if you killed a dragon, you would go to jail — even if it was an accidental dragoncide. As an adult, I realized this was a myth so I wondered if we were told this because dragons were endangered. Nope. But what a scary myth when you’re a kid!
Wow! That would be a rather terrifying thing to grow up believing! Wonder how that one got started.
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