Monday, September 26, 2011

Animal Of The Week: Dragonfly

Amongst the insect word, dragonflies stand out as being wondrous, almost angelic in the way they will suddenly appear, and then vanish as quickly as they came. They are characterised by their multi-faceted eyes with about 30,000 lenses giving them an almost 360 degree view, longs bodies, wings perpendicular from their bodies and six legs. There form has obviously served them well since they have existed for 300 million years. They are valuable predators, with a diet consisting of mosquitoes, flies, bees, wasps and occasionally butterflies.

Dragonfly wings are transparent with the hind wing being larger than the forewing. These wings are controlled by powerful muscles which can move independently of each other. A dragonfly beats its wings at about 30 beats per second. For comparison, a bee beats its wings about 300 times per second. Dragonflies can move sideways and backwards, straight up and down, and can hover in place like a helicopter. They are reputed to be some of the fastest insects in the world. One scientist, Robert Tillyard, believed he had measured a species of dragonfly, the Southern Giant Darner, flying about 97km/h (60m/h). However the general consensus is the average top speed of a dragonfly is 35-55km/h (22-34m/h) with a general cruising speed around 16km/h (10m/h). Some dragonflies can fly for great distances. For example, swarms of one species, the Wandering Gliders, have been spotted over the Atlantic Ocean hundreds of miles from land.

The lifecycle of a dragonfly can take several years but very little of that time is as an adult. A male and female mate while in the air and the female will lay her eggs on a water plant. Should she not be able to find a suitable plant she will simply drop them into the water. Once the young hatch they are referred to as nymphs. They are yet to have wings and will remain in the water until they have grown to their adult form. Some dragonflies if developed in the winter will wait till the warmer spring to take their first flight. Dragonfly nymphs will be found in lakes or marshes where the water is stiller than a river or stream.

The nymphs capture their food by means of a hinged lower lip that can be flipped forward to trap prey on stiff bristles. The lip can be extended about a third of the length of the larva's body, giving them enough reach to even capture small fish. Larvae breathe by means of gills inside the anal chamber, into which water is pumped, then forcibly expelled.

Once a nymph is ready to leave the water, and the weather is right, it will crawl out on to a plant, gulp air to inflate their body and shed it’s to begin life as an adult dragonfly. During this time it will hunt and look for a mate. The average lifespan of an adult dragonfly is about two months.

The good news is there is only one species of dragonfly that is endangered, the Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly. Historically, this stunning green dragonfly was found only in Ohio and Indiana. Today, the Hine's Emerald Dragonfly can only be found in small sites in Cook, DuPage, and Will counties in Illinois, and in Door County, Wisconsin. The greatest threats to this dragonfly as well as all other species would be loss of wetland habitats and poisoning via pesticides and pollutants in the water.

The dragonfly is an important insect to preserve. In nymph form it is a vital food source for other aquatic animals and in adult form it plays vital roles in controlling other insects such as mosquitoes in wetland areas. The presence of dragonflies also indicates local water quality. Culturally the dragonfly plays a significant role. One example is a great story I came across for a eulogy at a funeral to comfort those who feel they have lost contact with the one that has passed on.

The Dragonfly Eulogy
Once, in a little pond, in the muddy water under the lily pads, there lived a little water bug in a community of water bugs. They lived a simple and comfortable life in the pond with few disturbances or interruptions. Once in a while, sadness would come to the community when one of their fellow bugs would climb the stem of a lily pad and would never be seen again. They knew when this happened, their friend was dead, gone forever.

Then, one day, one little water bug felt an irresistible urge to climb up that stem. However, he was determined that he would not leave forever. He would come back and tell his friends what he had found at the top. When he reached the top and climbed out of the water onto the surface of the lily pad, he was so tired, and the sun felt so warm, that he decided he must take a nap. As he slept, his body changed and when he woke up, he had turned into a beautiful blue-tailed dragonfly with broad wings and a slender body designed for flying.

So, fly he did! And, as he soared he saw the beauty of a whole new world and a far superior way of life to what he had never known existed. Then he remembered his bug friends and how they were thinking by now he was dead. He wanted to go back to tell them, and explain to them that he was now more alive than he had ever been before. His life had been fulfilled rather than ended. But, his new body would not go down into the water. He could not get back to tell his friends the good news. Then he understood that their time would come, when they, too, would know what he now knew. So, he raised his wings and flew off into his joyous new life!

Dragonfly Medicine
There is one myth that dragonflies were once dragons, with scales as transparent and beautiful as a dragonfly’s wings. Dragons would fly through the night bringing light with their fiery breath. Coyote challenged and tricked the dragon to change it’s form to that of the dragonfly. In accepting the challenge to prove the challenge to prove it’s power and magical prowess, dragon lost his ability and remained as a dragonfly.

The archangel Ariel/Uriel is one of the four most powerful angels. Ariel is the ruler of the element of Earth, planet Pluto and psychic development . Ariel uses the dragonfly as a messenger to appear before people he wishes to connect with. If a dragonfly presents itself to you, Ariel may be trying to give you a mnessage.

Around the world the dragonfly is a positive symbol. To the Japanese, it symbolizes summer and autumn and is admired and respected 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.

If dragonfly has come into your life recently you are encouraged to explore what you can change or transform about yourself. Have you put on too much weight, have you overloaded your life or are you forgetting to be grateful for what you have? If you feel the need to change, call on dragonfly to aid your transformation.

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