Where did the name ‘dragonfly’ originate?
Answer: We have not been able to find a definitive answer to this question. One interesting theory about its origin, however, can be found in a book written by Eden Emanuel Sarot in 1958 entitled Folklore of the Dragonfly: A Linguistic Approach. He theorized that the name dragonfly actually came about because of an ancient Romanian Folktale. In the folktale, the Devil turned a beautiful horse ridden by St. George (of St. George and the dragon fame) into a giant, flying insect. The Romanian names the people supposedly refed to this giant insect (when translated into English) mean ‘St. George’s Horse’ or, more commonly, ‘Devil’s Horse.’ According to Sarot, the peasantry of that time actually viewed the Devil’s Horse as a giant fly and that they may have started referring to it as the ‘Devil’s Fly’ (instead of Devil’s Horse). He stated that the Romanian word for Devil was “drac,” but that drac was also the Romanian word for dragon. He thought that eventually the Romanian name for the Devil’s Fly was erroneously translated to the English Dragon Fly and this eventually evolved into the “dragonfly!”

How do you tell dragonflies and damselflies apart?
Answer: There are a number of differences. (1) Dragonflies, in general, are more robust than damselflies. (2) The eyes of most dragonflies meet on top of the head while those of damselflies are widely separated, almost on stalks, on either side of the head. (3) The name of the suborders each group belongs to gives us another answer. Dragonflies belong to the suborder Anisoptera, which means unequal winged; the damselflies belong to the suborder Zygoptera, meaning equal winged. The hind wings of dragonflies are broader at the base than the forewings whereas the forewings and hind wings of damselflies are similarly shaped. (4) Dragonflies hold their wings out to the side when at rest, but damselflies usually fold their wings up over their back when at rest. The spreadwing damselflies are the exception to this rule for they may hold their wings open somewhat (but not flat) or they may go ahead and fold them over their backs.

How long do dragonflies live?
The different life stages of a dragonfly are the egg, larvae (nymph), and the adult (imago). The larval stage may last for as little as three or four weeks (Pantala flavescens – Wandering Glider) to as much as five years (Family Aeshnidae – Darners) for some species; particularly in the more northern latitudes. Adult dragonflies, depending on the species, likely live for only a couple of months at best. The average life expectancy, however, may be much less than this because they are caught and eaten by a number of predators; including fish, frogs, turtles, other insects, spiders, birds, and many even fall prey to the automobile or other forms of human transportation.

What do dragonflies eat?
Larval dragonflies are aquatic and eat anything small enough for them to catch and hold onto while they grind it into pieces and eat it. This ranges from scuds, tubifex worms, water beetles, mosquito larvae, small fish, mayfly larvae, damselfly larvae, other dragonfly larvae, etc., etc. As adults, dragonflies eat just about anything they can catch while on the wing. Mosquitoes, gnats, flies, flying ants, swarming termites, mayflies, midges, butterflies (even big swallowtails), damselflies, other dragonflies, or just about anything small enough for them to catch.

Are dragonflies harmful to people?
No! Contrary to some old wives tales, dragonflies do not sew your lips up so you can’t eat and you starve to death, nor do dragonflies sting (they have nothing to sting you with) or bite. The latter statement is only partially true, for if you catch one and hold its mouth against your skin, it will instinctively try to bite. It takes a really big dragonfly to even cause a little bit of a pinch and it is highly unlikely, unless you hold them there and let them chew for a long time, that they will ever break the skin. There is absolutely no reason to be afraid of dragonflies.

Are dragonflies attracted to flowers?
No! The only reason dragonflies might be attracted to an area with flowers is because there were plenty of insects for them to eat there.

How can I attract dragonflies to my yard or garden?
Answer: Put in a water garden! There is a section in the book A Dazzle of Dragonflies that covers water gardening. Information about designing and building a water garden can also be found online.

What is the largest dragonfly in the world?
The largest modern day odonate in the world is a actually a damselfly from Central and South America, Megaloprepus coerulatus, with a wing span of approximately 180mm (7.1 inches). The largest dragonfly appears to be the Giant Petaltail (Petalura ingentissima) from northeastern Australia; however, there is some argument about this. The Giant Petaltail has a wingspan of approximately 160mm (6.3 inches). Some claim, however, that the Giant Hawiian Darner (Anax strenuus) is the largest. We have not been able to find the measurements for this dragonfly, but will continue to search for them.

What is the smallest dragonfly in the world?
Answer: The smallest dragonfly in the world is probably the Nannophya pygmaea (Pigmy Dragonfly), from eastern Asia. It has a total length of approximately 15mm (0.6 inches) and a wing span of only about 20mm (0.8 inches)

What is the largest dragonfly in the United States?
The largest dragonfly in the United States is Anax walsinghami (Giant Darner) which is found from far west Texas, westward into northern California. Its wingspan is not too impressive when compared to some other U.S. dragonflies, however, its total length of approximately 110mm (4.3 inches) exceeds that of its nearest rival, the Regal Darner (Coryphaeschna ingens), by almost 18mm (0.7 inches).

What is the smallest dragonfly in the United States?
The smallest dragonfly in the United States is the Elfin Skimmer (Nannothemis bella), a species found in the eastern U.S., and measures only about 20mm (0.8 inches) in total length.

How many dragonfly species are there?
The actual number of described species of Suborder Anisoptera (dragonflies) at this time is 2,874. The Suborder Zygoptera (damselflies) consists of about 2,698 species, and the Suborder Anisozygoptera contains only 2 species. Thus, there are 5,574 recognized species of odonates at the present time. This number is constantly changing, with new species being found and described and (as happens in taxonomy) similar species being combined into a single species. See http://www2.ups.edu/biology/museum/Odonata_genera.htm

How many dragonfly species are there in North America?
There are a total of approximately 447 Odonata found in the United States. This total consists of 131 damselflies (Suborder Zygoptera) and 316 dragonflies (Suborder Anisoptera). See http://www2.ups.edu/biology/museum/NAdragons.html

What is a dragonfly?
Dragonflies are insects, belonging to the Class Insecta (also called Hexapoda). This class is part of a larger group, the Phylum Arthropoda. The arthropods are characterized by the presence of an exoskeleton, a segmented body, and jointed appendages. The members of the Class Insecta (insects) have all the features of arthropods but can be further characterized by the presence of three distinct body segments: the head, thorax, and abdomen. The head has one pair of antennae and the thorax has six legs, one pair for each of its own three segments. The abdomen has no true legs and may have as many as ten or eleven segments. The class is organized into orders, where the insects appear in recognizable groups. The dragonflies (and damselflies) belong to the Order Odonata (the toothed ones). Dragonflies belong to the Suborder Anisoptera and the damselflies to the Suborder Zygoptera. The suborders are further divided into families and then to the actual scientific name of a specific dragonfly. This scientific name consists of two parts, the genus and the specific name (also called the specific epithet). The scientific name for the Widow Skimmer would is Libellula luctuosa, with Libellula being the genus name and luctuosa being the specific epithet (specific name)

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