Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Gratitude Day 8 Dragonflies

Today I am grateful for dragonflies. Anyone that knows me will not be surprised by today's topic. Dragonflies have held a fascination for me for many years. I have a lovely collection of many different dragonflies adorning my home to add magic and transformation.

When ever I have any stress or disharmony happening in my life I will always see usually 1-3 dragonflies when I take myself outside to let me know that I am not alone.

Europeans began calling the dragonfly, the witches’ animal, and that Satan sent it on earth to cause chaos and confusion, to calling it, Ear Cutter, Devil’s Needle, to Adderbolt  all spread Down Under, when the British colonized Australia. While, the Welsh call the dragonfly the snake’s servant and think they follow snakes and stitch up their wounds…and continuing with the misnomers, they are called eye pokers and eye snatchers in Portugal.

In Sweden, folklore suggests that we dragonflies come around to check for bad souls - to weigh souls to be more ‘accurate’ and elsewhere, believed to sneak up to children who tell lies and also adults who curse and scold, to stitch up their eyes, mouth, and ears respectively.

For a species of insects that have inhabited our planet for almost 300 million years, it is only natural perhaps that they have such a wide and varied perception amongst various civilizations.

To the Japanese, it symbolizes summer and autumn and is admired and respected all over, so much so that the Samurai use it as a symbol of power, agility and best of all, Victory.

In China, people associate the dragonfly with prosperity, harmony and as a good luck charm.
Amongst Native Americans, it is a sign of happiness, speed and purity. Purity because the dragonfly eats from the wind itself.

Brian Kane of has researched the following information.

There are a lot of ‘folk names’ given to dragonflies such as ‘Horse stinger’ in the UK. The name may come  from the way a captured dragonfly curls it abdomen as if in an attempt to sting. Another explanation was that they could be seen flying round horses in fields. They were really feeding on the flies attracted to the horses. Occasionally a fly would irritate or bite a horse enough to make it twitch or skip about. People seeing it made the inference that it was the dragon stinging, rather that an unseen fly biting. Dragonflies are fearsome predators of other flying insects but this beautiful creature is harmless to humans.

Photo Source Ancient Insect Fossil
Dragonflies are among the oldest insects on earth, for fossilized remains show that they existed 300 million years ago. This is an interesting time span considering that the famous dinosaur footprints at Minyirr (Gantheaume Point) date from the Cretaceous environment of 130 million year ago. Some of these ancient dragonflies had a wingspan over 60 cm (today the largest wingspan is megaloprepus coerulatus in South America which is 19 cm ).

There are 4500 different species of dragonfly in the world today (300 species in Australia) varying in size and colour. They are sunlight-loving day flying insects living near water, usually by stagnant pools and marshes. They have four large wings with a lace-like pattern of veins, long slender bodies, a huge head and prominent eyes. Most of them are brilliantly coloured with bodies that are red, blue, green, brown, yellow, and so on. The colour becomes stronger as the insect grows older. Observation here in Broome indicates that dragonflies are of a green, brown colouration.

Dragonflies move through the air at tremendous speeds sometimes reaching up to 90 kmph. They can fly for hours on end and have been known to travel 30 km or so, but usually they patrol a particular area looking for insects to eat. Mosquitoes, flies and midges are a large part of their diet and these are plucked from the air. This fact alone should endear these delightful creatures to us.

In contrast to its enormous eyes, the dragonfly’s antennae (for sensing, touch and smell) are poorly developed and less important to it. The jaws have strong tooth-like projections for biting into its prey. They have three pairs of legs attached to the body just behind the mouth. These are used for seizing its prey in mid-air.

Photo Source
Mating usually takes place in the air, then it is over to the female to lay its eggs into fresh water, the stems of water plants or into mud. After 2 – 5 weeks the eggs hatch into nymphs. These are called "mud-eyes" and are excellent bait for freshwater fish. They have the basic body structure of the adult insect but are fatter and without wings. The nymths are dull brown in colour and remain underwater until they are ready to change into adult dragonflies. They breathe by means of gills. Nymths are carnivorous (flesh eating) even tackling tadpoles and small fish. Dragonflies take anything from one to five years, and possibly even longer, to complete their Iife cycle. During its life as nymph the insect moults, shedding its skin, as many as ten or fifteen times. When the nymph is ready to moult for the last time, it comes out of the water and climbs up a plant above the surface of the water. After a short period of rest, the skin splits, the wings expand and a spectacular dragonfly emerges. The species ‘Trapezostigma loewii’ breed in warm still waters such as the flood plains of northern Australia. Their emergence as adults is often taken as a signal that the wet season was over.

Photo Source

Photo Source

Dragonflies mark the end of the Yawuru season, Mankala (the wet) and the beginning of the short season of Marul. This was the time when Aboriginal people move back to the coast. Last year, this change of season occurred in Broome on March 24th with the first easterly wind change and the immediate appearance of swarms of dragonflies especially around the Post Office area in Chinatown.

It is amazing that dragonflies can fly forwards, sideways, backwards and hover (sort of like a helicopter). It is said that Di Vinci wrote many papers on the possibility of such an aircraft being possible after he observed the dragonfly. They are much loved and there are many internet sites devoted to their study and preservation such as the British Dragonfly society -

Dragonflies have only a short lifespan in the air because they seem to disappear after two months. However, they have the vital role of keeping the insect population in balance and their preservation is important to the well being of everyone who live here in the Kimberley.

John Trueman on Petalura gigantea an ancient bog dweller in trouble

Back in the early Jurassic Era, 190 million years ago, enormous dragonflies of the anisopteran family Petaluridae lived in swamps and bogs on the ancient continents Laurasia and Gondwana. Their fossil remains, readily recognisable by a unique wing venation, have been found at sites in Europe and the former USSR.

The dinosaurs came and went, mammals radiated, birds discovered flight and plants invented flowers. On swamps and bogs across the newly-formed continents of America, Eurasia and Australasia the Petaluridae lived on. Today the family is much reduced in range but essentially unchanged in form and habit from those early times. Nine widely scattered species survive: four in Australia, one in New Zealand, one in Chile, two in North America and one in Japan.

Of the Australian species two live in the rainforests of north Queensland and one inhabits boggy seepages near Perth. But the best-known species in the whole family, the type species, Petalura gigantea, is found in NSW. With a wing-span of just under 140 mm, a body as thick as a finger, and heavier than a fairy wren this brown and yellow giant is one of our rarest dragonflies.

Photo Source

All nine surviving species are threatened by human activities. P. gigantea was recorded last century from marshes at Sydney and Cronulla but these are gone. Today it is found on isolated swamps in the eastern part of the State. Records plus a few unconfirmed sightings suggest it survives in the Royal National Park, in the Blue Mountains, on the Nightcap Range in the far north of the State and on Fraser Island off the Queensland coast. However, the largest and probably the most viable population is at the Wingecarribee Swamp near Moss Vale. There it lives on untouched marsh adjacent to a peat mine. It does not occur on open water or over the mine itself.

P. gigantea is a very unusual dragonfly, even apart from its great size. Two features explain its vulnerability. First, surprisingly, the adults are rather poor flyers and hopelessly bad at dispersing. Emergence takes place in late October and the flight season runs until January, but adults are never found far from their emergence site. By night they roost in trees at the swamp edge. By day they settle on the swamp itself where they perch on top of low vegetation or hang vertically from a branch.

Occasionally one will fly up and grab an insect to eat. Occasionally a male will patrol across the swamp or a female will lumber in from the surrounding area and with her short, curved ovipositor insert eggs one-by-one deep into the mat of sphagnum and roots which covers the swamp. Sometimes a mating pair flies together in the tandem hold; the male in front, gripping the female by the back of her head and cloaking her prothorax with the peculiar petal-like claspers at the tip of his abdomen. But on the whole its a quiet life as an adult petalurid. Within 10-20 km of Wingecarribee Swamp are several boggy seepages and apparently suitable sites, but P. gigantea seems incapable of finding them.

Second, the larvae are very slow growing, very long lived and, for a dragonfly, have very peculiar habits. Most dragonfly larvae are fully aquatic but those of Petaluridae are semi-terrestrial. At night and in wet weather they roam the surface of the swamp in search of insects and other arthropods to eat.

The rest of the time they retire to a permanent burrow, a long chambered passage with its opening above water level but extending deep into the swamp. Each year the burrow is made longer. The larval stage in P. gigantea is known to last at least 10 years but estimates based on burrow lengthening make a time-span of 20-30 years quite likely. Most probably the time-span varies by several years, even within a cohort.

It is the combination of poor dispersal ability, long larval life and an absolute need for permanent swamp with a stable water-table which makes P. gigantea so susceptible to human interference. Draining, mining, flooding or infill simply destroy the larvae in their burrows leaving no adult population to recolonise the swamp. One excellent way to ensure that the 190 million year history does not stop right now would be to preserve all known habitat - it wouldn't take much effort, there isn't much to save. A State-wide search for unknown populations would be very useful in order to better assess the situation.

Another very worthwhile activity, though potentially long term, would be further study of the larval stages to identify habitat requirements and better estimate the time from egg to adult. As with so many of our native invertebrate animals there is much we do not know about this unique dragonfly. We need to start finding out before it is too late.

I know that was lengthy but I feel it is some of the best information of the life and cycle of the beautiful dragonflies.

Richard Hood on June 3 2008 took a series of the process the dragonfly took emerging from its nymph drying out then opening its wings and flying off, absolutely amazing photos. The whole process took about 1 hour with the wings changing in about 10 minutes. You can view them here

Photo Taken by Richard Hood

Another thing people do not always realise is that there are Damselflies and Dragonflies. Whilst very similar they can be separated by looking at their wings. In dragonflies they usually hold their wings open when resting and damselflies usually close their wings when resting. Dragonfly hind wings are slightly broader and shorter than the fore wings and in damselflies both wings are more or less similar size. Dragonfly eyes are close together where damselflies are less dominant and well separated. The larvae of the dragonfly have internal gills and the damselflies have external gills at the end of their bodies.

Dragonflies and damselflies are carnivorous as both adults and nymphs. Nymphs feed on freshwater invertebrates catching them with specialised mouth parts that are able to spring forward and seize prey. Adults hunt by sight and prey on flying insects catching them on the wing with their legs. Australia has 325 recognized species of dragonflies and damselflies.

Dragonflies and damselflies are found all over Australia and although they need water to breed, individuals can be seen flying many kilometres from freshwater. Males tend to be territorial staying close by water to guard their hunting and mating grounds. They can often be observed perched on a favourite vantage point, usually a branch or rock protruding from the water or flying rapidly across their territory. When guarding their territory they will often fly rapidly after intruders chasing them away before returning to the same perch.

Photo Source This is a Damselfly

Females often roam further from water in search of prey. The nymphs are predominantly aquatic, although one species in known to inhabit wet leaf litter in northern Queensland. The nymphs of dragonflies and damselflies can be found in many aquatic habitats including either sluggish or fast running freshwater creeks, rivers, stream and lakes, and some species inhabit the more saline habitats of inland waters.

Dragonflies are valuable indicators of environmental well-being. A detailed knowledge of the dragonfly fauna and its changes is therefore an important basis for decisions about environmental protection and management. Their extraordinary diversity will interest entomologists and amateur naturalists alike.

The power of Dragonfly lies in its ability to see around things by looking from different angles. Using its ability to transform colours and lights by reflecting and refracting them, Dragonfly teaches us to apply the art of illusion to our own questions and situations, shows us that life, like light, can bend, shift, and adapt in various ways, making life's appearance never be what it appears to be, to remember things are never completely as they seem. It teaches us to look at the illusionary façade we accept as reality. Dragonfly's magic shows us to see through life's illusions and find our true vision. The shifting movement, energy, form, and colour of its iridescent wings open vague memories - reminding us of alternative perspectives. Dragonfly is the essence of change, the messages of enlightenment and wisdom. It calls us to transform within our lives and reminds us to feel deeply so we will have the compassion necessary to help ourselves and others.    It also brings communication from the elemental world, nature spirits. Dragonfly asks us to look at the habits we need to change, guides us through the mists of illusion - is the gatekeeper to the pathway of transformation, to a place within where magic is still alive - within, where all transformations takes shape.

Photo Source

The Symbolisms of the Dragonfly come from
Maturity and a Depth of character
The dragonfly, in almost every part of the world symbolizes change and change in the perspective of self realization; and the kind of change that has its source in mental and emotional maturity and the understanding of the deeper meaning of life.
The traditional association of Dragonflies with water also gives rise to this meaning to this amazing insect. The Dragonfly’s scurrying flight across water represents an act of going beyond what’s on the surface and looking into the deeper implications and aspects of life.
Power and Poise
The dragonfly’s agile flight and its ability to move in all six directions exude a sense of power and poise - something that comes only with age and maturity.
The dragonfly can move at an amazing 45 miles an hour, hover like a helicopter fly backwards like a hummingbird, fly straight up, down and on either side. What is mind blowing is the fact that it can do this while flapping its wings a mere 30 times a minute while mosquitoes and houseflies need to flap their wings 600 and 1000 times a minute respectively.
The awe inspiring aspect is how the dragonfly accomplishes its objectives with utmost simplicity, effectiveness and well, if you look at proportions, with 20 times as much power in each of its wing strokes when compared to the other insects. The best part is that the dragonfly does it with elegance and grace that can be compared to a veteran ballet dancer. If this is not a brazen, lazy, overkill in terms of display of raw power, what is?

Photo Source

Defeat of Self Created Illusions
The dragonfly exhibits iridescence both on its wings as well as on its body. Iridescence is the property of an object to show itself in different colours depending on the angle and polarization of light falling on it.
This property is seen and believed as the end of one’s self created illusions and a clear vision into the realities of life. The magical property of iridescence is also associated with the discovery of one’s own abilities by unmasking the real self and removing the doubts one casts on his/her own sense of identity. This again indirectly means self discovery and removal of inhibitions.
Focus on living ‘IN’ the moment
The dragonfly normally lives most of its life as a nymph or an immature. It flies only for a fraction of its life and usually not more than a few months. This adult dragonfly does it all in these few months and leaves nothing to be desired. This style of life symbolizes and exemplifies the virtue of living IN the moment and living life to the fullest. By living in the moment you are aware of who you are, where you are, what you are doing, what you want, what you don’t and make informed choices on a moment-to-moment basis.
This ability lets you live your life without regrets like the great dragonfly.
The opening of one’s eyes
The eyes of the dragonfly are one of the most amazing and awe inspiring sights. Given almost 80% of the insect’s brain power is dedicated to its sight and the fact that it can see in all 360 degrees around it, it symbolizes the uninhibited vision of the mind and the ability to see beyond the limitations of the human self. It also in a manner of speaking symbolizes a man/woman’s rising from materialism to be able to see beyond the mundane into the vastness that is really our Universe, and our own minds.

Photo Source

I found this wonderful poem by Mariam Paracha - Prism of Life - Dragonfly

The warmth of the sun settles, hugging the lake.
The dragonfly flies low, hovering above the tranquil water
the light seeping through the paper thin skin,
it hums across the lake, refracting light off its wings,
An array of colors make patterns on the wings,
wearing it like a cloak, a rainbow embedded within.
The colors tilt and shift as the dragonfly gracefully cruises through life,
laying close to the water but letting the air propel it forward,
floating between two different worlds,
it is like a dream where our thoughts are separated from reality,
and are scattered like refracted light for us to assemble.

Through a screen of our dreams, a world can be seen.
A world of hopes and desires that is dormant within
The light of life just soaks us bare,
our skin turns frail,
under the scorching glare,
the glare of eyes that want you to be,
someone that is accepted by society.

the dragonfly bathes itself in the sun,
the iridescent colors shine on its skin,
flying and floating, he’s determined to win
a predator, determined to get what it wants
nothing blocking its way or paving its path
making the most out of life and never holding back

spread your wings like the dragonfly
that hums its way through life,
dipping its wings in the sun to shine,
breaking free a life of colors,
that we leave locked and forgotten,
behind a reality made of black and white,
the black ink seeping through our minds,
injecting us with ideas of the 'ideal life'
where money and fortune, and status define.
Bathe your mind in the wonders of the world,
soak your heart in life's warmth and glow,
and pave your own path,
with the dreams you sow.

Jamie Sams & David Carson's Medicine Cards have this to say about dragonfly

Breaks illusions..
Brings visions of power,
No need to prove it,
Now is the hour!

Know it,believe it,
Great Spirit intercedes,

Feeding you,blessing you,
Filling all your needs.

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