Friday, June 12, 2015

Snake doctors

A comment left on my blog by my friend Jack piqued my curiosity.  Jack said that as a youngster he called dragonflies "snake doctors." Where did that nomenclature come from? Is this the nexus of entomology and etymology?  Perhaps it is more accurately the nexus of etymology and folklore.  According to Wikipedia, dragonflies are called "snake doctors" in the South because of the "folk belief that dragonflies follow snakes around and stitch them back together if they are injured."  I'm guessing this belief was a carry over from the old country:  the Welsh name for dragonfly meant "adder's servant."  I couldn't guess why dragonflies are seen as doctors for snakes rather than for critters that don't have such a sinister connotation, but the stitching part is easy for me to see.  I can imagine lots of people in the olden days watched someone quickly moving a large darning needle through a wool sock.  I'm sure watching a dragonfly's dips and swoops called to mind that same motion.  And the long body of the dragonfly must have been reminiscent of the shape of the needle as well.  Or perhaps watching a doctor make sutures had a similar effect.
So here are some pictures I took today and yesterday of more "snake doctors."
The first is a metal hook, a piece of art, a luxury I allowed myself.  I think I bought it on clearance from the Winterthur catalog.  They came in a pair, and I gave one to my mom.  It holds a basket by the kitchen door to keep my gardening gloves and pruners handy.

Next is a common green darner that can be quite camouflaged in some cases.  It would hardly stay still long enough to have its picture made.

Perched on a dead elderberry snag and on the fence is a female widow skimmer.

Using that same perch and another snag is the male widow skimmer.

It's interesting, I suppose, what insects remind us of.  I've always thought dragonflies looked a bit like helicopters.  I've seen lots more helicopters than darning needles.  Depending on who is using them though, I suppose they both can "fly."  But I hope I never see a dragonfly stitching up a snake.

1 comment:

  1. Well thanks for clearing that up. I never knew why we called them snake doctors. But when we were at the creeks and one came around we got leery and kept looking for the snake.
    Thanks for the pictures. I am amazed at the wings on the green dude. So transparent and fragile looking.

    Very good entry.. Thanks.