A New Conversation with a Dragonfly

A short video showing how to train a dragonfly.

Many years ago, a dragonfly befriended me. He flew up to see me every time I came outside. If I held my hand up, he’d land on my finger and sit there for as long as I had the patience to humor him. We didn’t talk much. For him, it was more about communing and sharing space than anything else. I tried to strike up conversations, but we didn’t get much past my praise for his beauty, his friendliness, and the good work he did eating biting flies and mosquitoes.

This relationship was cool, fun, and interesting, but as a type-A gotta-stay-busy type, I often felt impatient with communing, and anxious that I should be working instead. So, I started playing little games with him, like teaching him to step-up from one finger to another to another. Sometimes, he’d fly away only to circle back and land on my finger again. He indulged my need to be doing something, and I indulged his desire to share energy with a human.

Since then, I’ve tried to encourage various dragonflies to be my friend. Most are uninterested. Fine. It’s not like I have any more time for communing now than I did then. But the other day, when I was working in the yard, I noticed that a dragonfly was following me around. He’d light on the handle of the wheelbarrow, the handle of my shovel, or the wire tomato support nearby.

It was hot, and I was kind-of over it in terms of sweating my buns off, so I held my hand up and asked if the dragonfly wanted something. He flew right over and perched on my finger. As I’ve learned to do, I praised him for his beauty, his friendliness, and the good work he does eating biting flies and mosquitoes. He cocked his head and folded two legs up between his head and body, the way dragonflies do when they’re resting.

Unlike my previous dragonfly friend, this one had a lot to say. Aware that we are moving away and that someone new will be coming here to take our place, he was concerned that the new human stewards of this property might not know how to treat dragonflies. I confessed that I didn’t know who the new owners of Dragonfly Pond Farm might be; the house hasn’t sold yet. So, he gave me a list of ten marching orders he wanted me to leave for the new homeowners.

  1. Don’t use weedkiller, pesticides, fertilizer, or other chemicals near the swamp (because that’s where the dragonfly larvae grow).
  2. Please discourage spiders from building their webs near the house, especially along walkways, where the dragonflies like to fly.
  3. Instead of using electronic bug-zappers, please use fly traps instead. Dragonflies are usually too smart to get caught in those zappers (and they’re usually resting by the time the light-controlled zappers come on in the evening), but still, accidents happen, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  4. Please provide lots of dragonfly perches! They like to perch on tomato cages, fence posts, fence wires, and yard decorations of a certain height (tall enough to survey their domain and be safe from leaping cats).
  5. Please don’t encourage the Purple Martins. (In fact, please take down those Martin houses.) We dragonflies know you think the Martins eat mosquitoes and biting flies, and they do. But mostly, they eat dragonflies, and we’re the ones who kill the flying insects that bite you.
  6. Please keep the pond fountain going, and use sprinklers often. We like to drink water on the fly.
  7. Be mindful of our presence, and notice when we’re trying to connect with you. We’ll hang around when you’re working in the yard or buzz past to catch your attention. We may even light on your head! If this happens, stop what you’re doing for a moment and pay attention. Hold your hand up and stand very still. We may perch on your finger. Or if we perch on a nearby branch often enough that you notice our presence, invite us to step up onto your finger.
  8. Understand what a dragonfly needs to feel safe around humans. Slow your breathing and become aware of your energy. Dragonflies won’t trust anyone whose energy isn’t calm. When you feel calm and centered, slowly ease your finger close to the dragonfly, approaching from the front, and below, near the feet. (Dragonflies know that predators usually approach from above.) Give the dragonfly time to become accustomed to your presence. Ask if the dragonfly would like to step up onto your finger. If he doesn’t fly away, keep moving your finger closer until the dragonfly places one foot, then another, then another, onto your fingertip. When he has moved fully onto your fingertip, you can slowly lift your hand so you and the dragonfly can observe each other up close.
  9. Sometimes, after you’ve managed to entice a dragonfly to perch on your finger, he may get spooked and fly away. Give him another chance to come back around if he would like to do that. Calm your energy, open your heart, and hold your hand up. If the dragonfly comes back, lucky you! If not, try again later. You may have already received the blessing the dragonfly wanted to bestow. Thank the dragonfly for its time and attention and go about your day knowing that you’ve been acknowledged by a magical being.
  10. Please know that this place that was named for dragonflies will always be a sacred place for them, and for you. Never forget that dragonflies are the ambassadors of this land, and that they extend their energetic protection from all malevolent forces, both seen and unseen. For that, they deserve your gratitude and protection from humans (including yourself) and others who don’t understand the symbiotic relationship between the human stewards of the land and all its inhabitants.

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