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Dragonflies and Damselflies: Odonata - Dragonflies And Damselflies And People

Animal Life ResourceInsects and SpidersDragonflies and Damselflies: Odonata - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Dragonflies And Damselflies And People, Conservation Status, Wandering Glider (pantala Flavescens): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET


Despite the menacing common names given to them, such as "devil's darning needles" or "horse stingers," odonates are harmless and are unable to sting. They eat large numbers of harmful insects, especially disease-carrying mosquitoes. Their presence or absence in bodies of freshwater is used as a measure of water quality. In fact, the Navaho Indians use dragonflies as a symbol to signify pure water.

Dragonflies are revered in East Asia, where they have been worshipped by people for centuries and used in medicines. Traditionally known as the "invincible insect," the dragonfly was a favorite symbol of strength among Japanese warriors. The ancient Chinese and Japanese used concoctions made from dragonflies or damselflies to treat a variety of illnesses, among them, eye diseases, sore throats, and fevers. Even the old name for the island of Japan, Akitsushima, means Island of the Dragonfly.


The largest wingspan for a living odonate belongs to an Australian dragonfly, Petalura ingentissima, measuring 6.5 inches (165.1 millimeters). The largest living damselfly, the forest giant (Megaloprepus caerulatus), has a wingspan measuring 6.4 inches (162.5 millimeters). The largest odonate in the United States is the giant darner (Anax walsinghami), from the American Southwest. Its wingspan is more than 3 inches (50 centimeters), and it has a body length of 4 inches (101.6 millimeters) or more. But the largest dragonfly that ever lived was Meganeuropsis permiana, an extinct species known only from fossils (FAH-suhls), ancient impressions of the insect's body left in mud that eventually turned to stone. It flew across the swamps of North America nearly 250 million years ago with wings measuring 28 inches (711.2 millimeters) across!

The Japanese have established more than twenty dragonfly sanctuaries across Japan. Images of dragonflies are found on tunnels, sidewalks, and city buildings of Nakamura City. The Yamma Bashi, or large dragonfly bridge, spanning the nearby Ikeda River, is supported by giant sculptures of dragonflies. Even the public transportation system pays tribute to these insects, with the Tosa Kuroshio Train, or Red Dragonfly, linking Nakamura City to Kubokawacho.

Large adult dragonflies are eaten by humans and are considered delicacies in many parts of the world. In Thailand they are roasted, mixed with shrimp, or eaten raw. In Indonesia odonates are mixed with other small animals in a thick, spicy soup. The Balinese fry dragonflies in coconut oil and serve them with vegetables. They also remove their wings and boil them in coconut milk seasoned with ginger, garlic, shallots, and chili pepper. Sometimes coconut meat is substituted for coconut milk, and the entire mixture is wrapped in a banana leaf and cooked together.

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