Any of numerous predatory insects of the order Odonata, having large eyes, a long slender body, and two pairs of transparent veined wings, especially those of the order Anisoptera, which hold the wings outstretched when at rest, as distinguished from the damselflies. Also called regionally darner, darning needle, devil's darning needle, mosquito fly, mosquito hawk, needle, skeeter hawk, snake doctor, snake feeder, spindle.
Our Living Language Regional terms for the dragonfly are numerous—the Dictionary of American Regional English lists nearly 80 of them. The greatest variety of terms is to be found in the South, where the most widespread term is snake doctor (a name based on a folk belief that dragonflies take care of snakes). The Midland equivalent is snake feeder. Speakers from the Lower South and the Mississippi Valley, on the other hand, are more likely to refer to the same insect as a mosquito fly, mosquito hawk, or, in the South Atlantic states, a skeeter hawk. The imagery outside the South often alludes to the insect's shape rather than its behavior or diet: speakers in the West, in the Upper North, and in New England call it a darner, darning needle, or, less commonly, a devil's darning needle, and those in the Upper North also refer to it just as a needle; those in coastal New Jersey, a spindle.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.