Hallowen Pennant dragonfly - Putnam Sentinel
Halloween Pennant dragonfly.

PUTNAM COUNTY — Though, according to the Chinese astrological calendar, officially the Year of the Dog, 2018 could well be the Year of the Dragon, or at least its diminutive namesake, the dragonfly. Dragonflies are virtually everywhere this year, fast-flying over streams, rivers, ponds, wetlands and ditches, and engaging in aerial acrobatics over suburban lawns and parking lots.

This isn’t entirely surprising, given the sheer number of different species: over 5,000 worldwide. In Ohio, entomologists with the Division of Wildlife estimate there are 64 different species typically found in the state. Of those, 37 have been identified in Putnam County, though records here are few. And this year’s weather has likely also played a role in their teeming numbers. A cool, wet, extended spring could well have delayed their annual hatching, which typically begins mid-April when the state’s largest dragonfly — the Common Green Darner — first makes an appearance. That cool, wet spring, followed as it was by higher than normal temperatures, likely spurred a sudden hatching.

Members of the order Odanata — which includes their smaller and more slender cousins, the damselflies — dragonflies are considered a Tier 2 aquatic macroinvertebrate when they’re in their larval, or nymph, stage by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. As such, they’re presence in rivers and streams are an indicator of positive water quality.

Despite their beneficial nature, dragonflies haven’t always been perceived in the best of light. In European folklore, dragonflies were once considered agents of Satan, sent to sow chaos and discord, and were referred to as Devil’s Needles. They were believed associates of witches, garnering such other nicknames as Ear Cutter and Adderbolt. Seeing dragonflies soaring around kicking equines, some Europeans gave them the name Horse Stinger, believing them responsible for the horses’ distress. A far more likely explanation, as dragonflies neither sting nor bite — not mammals, at any rate — is that they were feeding on the very insects causing the horses to kick and flail. Sadly, that perception followed along with emmigrating colonists to Australia, where the misunderstanding was fostered.

In Swedish folklore, dragonflies were said to visit and check for bad souls, and to visit lying children and adults who cursed and scolded in order to sew up their eyes, mouths and ears.

On the opposite side of the coin, dragonflies were, and are, revered by a variety of cultures. To the Japanese, dragonflies symbolized summer and autumn and were so well respected, samurai used the dragonfly as a symbol of power, agility and victory. In China, the dragonfly is associated with properity and harmony, and considered a sign of good luck.

In the U.S., Native Americans believe the dragonfly a sign of happiness, speed and purity and have woven the insect into any number of myths. The wide array of colors seen in dragonflies and damselflies, and the jewel-like nature of their eyes have prompted artists to recreate their likenesses in textiles, paintings and jewelry.

That such a disparate set of perceptions and beliefs existed could simply be a matter of time. Dragonflies have a history that dates back over 300 million years to the Triassic period, where they did then just as they do now: voraciously consume insects commonly viewed as pests. Entomologists estimate a single adult dragonfly consumes a minimum of 30 mosquitoes a day, with a top end of over 100, making them a first line of defense against a host of diseases, such as malaria and, closer to home, West Nile virus.