Dragonflies are insects that belong to the Odonata order, and to the suborder of Epiprocta. Their basic features are two pairs of wings, large multifaceted eyes, and a long thin body.
Because they eat mosquitoes, they can be quite helpful for humans. They also eat bees, ants, flies and in some very rare cases, butterflies, basically they feed on flying insects, even from their very own species. Dragonflies can usually be found around lakes, streams, ponds and wetlands. Their larvae, also called "nymphs", are aquatic.
Dragonflies are real experts in the art of flying. They can even catch their prey while flying. They have two pairs of wings, each one acting separately from the other. When they need to fly slower, the dragonfly flaps its very first pair of wings before it flaps the other pair. When the dragonfly wants to fly faster, it flaps its both wings at the same time.
Due to their wings, dragonflies can be classified in two categories: those with unequal wings, belonging to the class of Anisoptera - their back wings having a wider basis. those with equal sized wings are called Zygoptera. Their two pairs of wings have the same shape. They are also smaller and fly slower and more elegantly than the dragonflies with unequally-sized wings. Since these insects live around waters - such as lakes, ponds, rivers - after copulation, they lay their eggs in that area. Some dragonfly families fly in large groups, others fly individually. They have a different aspect when they rest as compared to when they are flying with their spread wings. But in both cases, they show off magnificent colors.
Apart from their unusual and colorful appearance, dragonflies also have a quite interesting symbolism. Its iridescent wings can catch the softest breeze and because of that we could say that its symbolism is related to the idea of going with the wind. Because they are also water creatures, dragonflies' symbolism could be said to be related to the subconscious, to the world of dreams and meditation.
Europeans most often have associated dragonflies to sinister symbols. There are some vernacular names in English, like "devil's darning devil", or "ear cutter", which relate these insects to injuries and evilness. According to a Romanian legend, the dragonfly was once a devil-possessed horse. In the Swedish folklore, it is said that the devil uses dragonflies to weigh people's souls, whereas in Portugal they are often called "Tira-olhos" (meaning Eye snatcher). This association with evil is completed by the fact that they are sometimes associated with snakes, like in the Welsh word gwas-y-neidr, "adder's servant".
In the southern part of the US there is a folk traditional belief according to which dragonflies have the habit of following snakes around and putting them back together if they get injured. But throughout time, however, these insects got a more positive connotation. For some Native American tribes, dragonfly represents speed and activity. For the Navajo they are a symbol of pure water. In Zuni pottery they appear as a quite common symbol.
In China and Japan dragonflies are used for certain medicinal purposes. In some parts of the world they are even used for food: they are eaten either as adults, or as larvae. Such is the example of Indonesia where, for instance, they are caught on birdlime sticky poles, fried in oil and served as a special delicacy. In Japan dragonflies symbolize happiness, courage and strength. They appear quite often in Japanese art and literature, mostly in haiku (which is a form of poetry). The Japanese seem to take quite a large interest in this insect, since there are names for most of all the 200 dragonfly species that can be found around and in Japan. Japanese children have even a special kind of game for catching these insects.
But Japan isn't the only country where catching dragonflies is considered to be a fun, interesting hobby. Thus, such a habit is common in the United States also, where seeking out damselflies and dragonflies is considered to be a hobby just like to that of butterflying and birding. It is called "oding." The name of the hobby comes from the dragonfly species' name in Latin, i.e. "odonata". This hobby is quite popular in Texas, where there have been noticed no less than 225 dragonfly species!