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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 31, 2003 - Issue 88


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Mosquito-Gobbling Dragonflies Offer an Alternative to Spraying

by Dorreen Yellowbird Grand Forks Herald
credits: Daylillies and Dragonflies by Robert Bateman

Daylillies and DragonfliesMontoya Whiteman, a good friend from Colorado, introduced me to a mighty insect called the dragonfly last summer in San Diego. I knew about dragonflies but I didn't know the tribal significance until we talked.

Among Native people this insect is meaningful and sacred. To non-Natives an important characteristic of the dragonfly is that they love the scrumptious taste of mosquitoes. Each insect catches and eats about 600 biting, pesky mosquitoes a day. They catch them in their leg pouches, I read.

In the Grand Forks area, we know the day is coming - the day of the mosquito. We are still in the cool stages of spring. So we don't say the "m" word too loud - we don't want to think about them yet. When they come and hatch, they fill the air with humming. They take aim with their proboscis at an unprotected arm or nose - which makes us welcome the drone of the mosquito killer, the giant spewing machine that kills the dreadful pests for a week or two.

The West Nile virus has changed the mosquito stakes from "pesky" to "fear." West Nile can kill humans and beasts of all kinds. In fact, health experts have detected West Nile in animals already this spring. There is a cry to move with all speed to start the spraying.

The stakes are high, but the dragonfly, perhaps farmed or hatched, could be brought in to take out the mosquitoes like an army of Black Hawk helicopters. They'd eat 24 hours a day until they'd be too full to fly.

There are several reason why I like the idea of dragonflies rather than spraying.

Dragonflies have a special significance to Native people. The Cheyenne nation, Whiteman told me, uses the symbol of the dragonfly in ceremonies because the insect represents agility, quickness and a whirlwind quality that the warriors needed in battle and in life. Dragonflies proved their ability to take out mosquitoes in large numbers.

Furthermore, the military studies the dragonfly because of their speed - research indicated that they can fly 60 mph. Incidentally, how did the military learn that? Did the entomologists strap tiny, tiny odometers to the bodies of the dragonflies?

A Dakota spiritual leader told me that the dragonfly is a good omen and a sign of life. They bring visions during ceremonies, he said. They have the power of immortality and regeneration. So a dragonfly is a good omen that brings life and visions, while the mosquito killing machine is a temporary fix and may cause health problems.

During her ceremonial fasting and Sundancing, Whiteman said thousands of dragonflies came to visit her - a good omen. Her helpers and family did not see the insects because they were meant only for her. She is a believer in the spirituality of the dragonfly.

Whiteman said the good worth of the dragonfly is common in symbols among many tribes.

Dragonflies and Damselflies are ancient. Fossil records say that they were here 300 million years ago. They have survived through eons, but as one environmentalist noted, the insecticides and pollution of our generation just might send them the way of the dinosaurs.

They breed in ponds, mud and even underwater so as their habitat becomes polluted, their children will die. The children - larva - have gills and will need to breathe the polluted water. The adults breathe through their stomach.

Dragonflies are the order Odonata with two suborders: Anisoptera (dragonfly) and Zygopters (damselfly). The larva lives one to three years and the adult, three months to a year. So they don't have very long to eat mosquitoes. They have a voracious appetite for flies and gnats as well.

The chemicals in larvicides and the mosquito-killing, aerial-spraying machines kill some of the mosquitoes over a limited time, but the long-term effects on humans and animals still poses a risk. The problem is that people in areas where mosquitoes swarm think the only alternatives are the larviciding and aerial spraying.

With excellent researchers on the trail of West Nile, a vaccination maybe on the horizon. Meanwhile, the insecticides and the pot of money that can be earned from a frightened public seem hard to give up.

I may be rained on by the giant mosquito-killing machine or aerial spraying, but I will be cheering for every dragonfly that makes it through the insecticide fog.

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