June 10, 2012

Love for dragonflies keeps growing


---- — My mother called them Devil’s Darning Needles. She convinced me that if I uttered bad words, they would come into my bedroom at night and sew my lips together. I made sure my window was closed and tried hard to use kinder thoughts and words. Sometimes it actually worked.

There were also legends about the dangers of sleepinwg outside and having these four-winged creatures sew our eyes shut. It never deterred us from “camping out” in the backyard.

As I grew older, my opinion of the wonderful insects we know as dragonflies turned completely around, and I now relish them as beneficent and friendly — even magical. I’ve written about them previously, but I do so again with even greater admiration.

If you were to visit our home, you would see many items on the walls, hanging from the ceiling and in photo albums that reference the dragonfly. Kaye and I cherish them and flutter inside when one lands on a shoulder or sidewalk.

We have an artist friend in Georgia who used her Native American wisdom to “read” Kaye’s personality and future. She concluded that Kaye should forever be known as “Dragonfly” and still calls her by that name.

There are dragonflies throughout a local beauty shop we visit and the owner — like us — is a huge fan.

We had never seen dragonflies in large numbers before Memorial Day weekend while we camped at Cole’s Creek on the St. Lawrence River. When I say they came in like the biblical plague of locusts, I don’t exaggerate. As we set up the camper, they arrived like Ezekiel and his windstorm. There were thousands all around us. For me, it was like nirvana.

I watched other camping families and noticed some were terrified. I wanted to rush about telling them that dragonflies are harmless to humans, but I just stood there mesmerized. Those who know me best have learned that I am curious, if nothing else. I have a burning desire to “know,” and that pursuit has sometimes caused me problems. Another of my mother’s many admonitions was “Curiosity killed the cat.”

I had left my trailer keys home and had to make a trip all the way back to pick them up. By the time we returned to the St. Lawrence, our friend who mows grass at the park rolled up to say hello and give me a gentle jibe or two for not being able to unlock my camper doors.

The dragonflies came again, and I asked if he knew anything about it. “Yup,” he answered. “They were released to eat the mosquitoes — twice.” Case solved.

What a wonderful idea. First, they came up with the idea of bringing in dogs trained to run off the pesky Canada Geese, and then dragonflies are let go to reduce the mosquito population. I was impressed. Normally, the mosquito population assails us each spring and summer as we attempt to sit around the campfire at dusk. Not this time. Amazing.

It has been said that each dragonfly can eat its weight in mosquitoes in a single day. Wrong. A dragonfly can eat its weight in insects in a half-hour or less. They start consuming mosquitoes and just about everything else smaller than they are while they are still in the water where they hatch and form nymphs. And when they add their beautiful pairs of wings, they continue their ravenous quest. Black flies are also in their diet, and that’s just fine with me.

They cannot and will not bite or sting people, but if you’re anything up to the size of a cricket or bumblebee, you’d better run and hide.

Three minutes after finishing this column, I walked across the street to the post office and a friend walked in behind me with a large sterling-silver dragonfly pendant around her neck. There are no coincidences.

Dragonflies have been on earth 300 million years and at one time were almost 3 feet long. Egad! Of course, mosquitoes were probably bigger then as well.

That’s the buzz. Have a great day and please, drive carefully.