Photo Essay

Flying Dragons


In the inland swamp-like lake, large not more than 50 meters in diameter, of San Rafflu in Kercem, Gozo part of the Maltese Archipelago, dragonflies are bursting with life. Dragonflies of all colours, blue, red, green and even purple. A dragonfly is an insect belonging to the Odonata order. It is characterized by large multifaceted eyes, two pairs of strong, transparent wings, and an elongated body. Dragonflies are similar to damselflies, but the adults can be differentiated by the fact that the wings of most dragonflies are held away from, and perpendicular to, the body when at rest.

Dragonflies usually eat small insects like mosquitoes, flies, bees, ants and butterflies. They are therefore predators, since they help control populations of other insects. Dragonflies are usually found around lakes, ponds, streams and wetlands because their larvae, known as "nymphs", are aquatic. Adult dragonflies do not bite or sting humans, though their nymphs are capable of delivering a painful bite.

Male Dragonflies are capable of hovering followed by rapid acceleration. They capture their prey by clasping them in legs studded with spikes. Prey cannot escape by diving away because dragonflies always attack from below.

In Europe, dragonflies have often been seen as sinister. Some English vernacular names, such as "devil's darning needle" and "ear cutter", link them with evil. Romanian folk tale says that dragonfly was once a horse possessed by the devil. Swedish folklore says that the devil uses dragonflies to weigh people's souls. Another Swedish legend holds that trolls use the dragonflies as spindles when weaving their clothes (hence the Swedish word for dragonfly trollslända, lit. "troll's spindle") as well as sending them to poke out the eyes of their enemies. The Norwegian name for dragonflies is "Øyenstikker", which literally means Eye Poker and in Portugal they are sometimes called "Tira-olhos" (Eye snatcher). They are often associated with snakes, as in the Welsh name gwas-y-neidr, "adder's servant". The Maltese name for the dragonfly is Mazzarell (a knitting needle) but sometimes children who hop around to catch them to put them in boxes call them helicopter so although much of the Europeans don't see a good eye with the dragonflies children in Malta have fun chasing and collecting them.


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