Dragonflies are complex and fascinating beasties whose origins go back to the mists of time when giant dragonfly like forms haunted the Carboniferous swamps and forests.
Their life cycle is unique not least because of the remarkable development from water dwelling larvae to the aerial life of the adult. This requires a complete adjustment of the internal respiratory system.
With each generation the Dragonfly seems to retrace the evolutionary path that led some animals to leave the aquatic life for good and adapt to living in the air.
Their metamorphosis, social behaviour, mating and reproduction have all been a constant source of fascination to humankind.
In the middle ages ‘flies’ generally( along with reptiles, serpents and dragons) had a bad name. and colloquial names for odanates reflects this throughout Europe- in our own dragonfly, the German Teufelspferd, the Spanish Caballitio del Dabialo ( devils horse), the Breton L’aguille du diable ( devil’s needle). The more favourable, female connection also recurs through out Europe. The English damselfly, french demoiselle, German jungfer,etc and the insects have been referred to as needlewomen ( possibly because of their ‘costume’) and butterflies of love. In the Far East, dragonflies were never considered as mysterious or evil. The first Japanese emperor named his country Akitsu shima (islands of dragonflies) The insects became symbols of strength and courage, their silhouette synonymous with success and victory, during the seventeenth century warriors incorporated the dragonfly symbol in the family crests on their armour.
The word libellula reflected in the name for the largest Odanata family Libellulidae, and the french for the dragonfly La Libellule has interesting associations. According to some, it is derived from libella meaning booklet, and evokes the image of the insect resting with wings outstretched like the pages of a book Others suggest it might be a derivative of libella meaning balancing scales recalling the gentle rocking of the wings when the insect is at rest.
In the sixteenth century Rondelet was the first to name the zygoteran larvae Libella fluviatus ‘ for the shape is like that of an architects level’
In some countries even today Dragonflies are regarded as a delicacy to be eaten.The adult abdomen and the larvae feature in the diets of some African and South American peoples; on the islands of Lombok in Indonesia the local people catch the insects on glue coated twigs then tear the bodies to fry with onions and shrimps.
In northern Sumatra, bowls of curried soup sell from roadside stalls,ingredients include small fish, tadpoles and dragonfly larvae.
In the east particularly in China and Japan dragonflies have long been used for medicinal purposes . Even today some species ( eg Sympetrum frequens) are sold by chemists to reduce throat inflammation and fevers.
They have featured strongly in Art, literature through out the world even personal decoration, the American Koftan Indians of Columbia sometimes wear a nose pin decorated with the wing of micro stigma rotundatum. Switzerland, Albania, Finland,Pitcairn and Japan and other countries have at some time depicted dragonflies on their national stamps, Pantala flavescens and Calopteryx species seem to be the favourites.
In 1862 2,000 million darkened the skies of East Prussia from dawn until dusk. The Four Spotted Chaser has a ten year cycle of migrations. The actual stimulus to swarm and move off results from the cumulative effect of population pressure, parasitic irritation and specific climatic conditions. In most recent times 1972 was a noted year of big movements. However the warm summer of 1996 was exceptional with the arrival to British shores of large numbers of the European Yellow Winged Darter, normaly a scarce vagrant ,several hundred were found along the east coast of England with individuals being found inland in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire.
The summer months June to September are the best months to look for adult Dragonflies . 39 Species regularly breed in the UK ( Plus irregular migrants and occaisional vagrants)