That was my reaction back in grade school, when I found out that prehistoric dragonflies were a few steps bigger back then. I guess it's true, tho--size really did matter back then, too.
Me, I grew up with dragonflies. Not in the "I was raised by bugs" sort of way, but somewhat like that. I can easily recall many summers spent chasing dragonflies. If there was utterly nothing I could think of to do (and that took some doing) I could always fall back on Plan B: Chase Dragonflies. It was easy, once you got the hang of it--those marvelous compound eyes gave them practically an entire hemisphere of vision up front, so there was no way you were going to walk up on one if you were anywhere near facing it, but they're effectively blind from behind, so all you had to do was sneak up quietly behind one, reach your fingers out and gently clamp one set of wings in your fingers. After that you could look at them, set them on your fingertip, and then let them go so you could go catch another.
It's what I did today. Chased dragonflies. Oh trust me, I had plenty to do, still do; my vacation has been one long work-fest, and I actually never physically caught one in my fingers, but I took time during the warmth of the afternoon to stop flinging huge bits of pecan tree onto the burn pile to sling my camera around my neck and go bug hunting.
Back when I was a kid my brother and I measured dragonflies by two variables: size and colour. Yeah, more and more this is sounding like it's about to turn pornographic but trust me, for once it's not. You see, around here there is a bewildering variety of dragonflies, in different sizes and colours. The most common are the two smallest, each perhaps the length of my thumb. They all came in brown (a sort of golden bronze colour, really, with black patterning,) and blue. Vis:
Those you could find anywhere. They'd perch with that weird tail-in-the-air manner on the rosebushes, the clothes line, fences, plants, anywhere really and all you had to do was have sharp eyes and the ability to move quietly. I probably caught and released more of those kinds than I've had hot meals.
Then there was the step up. The golden ones, with their heavy bodies and solid colours. I was frankly astounded to find this one stationary.
Those were the ones that never landed, that forever stayed circling and whirling overhead in clouds of hundreds. I remember the first year my brother and I finally got smart and started using a net. No mere butterfly net was good enough for us, though, and we couldn't have afforded one if we wanted to. No, a deep-sea fishing net that my father had in his shop was the answer--a ten foot long aluminum pole with an opening a full yard across and a net almost four feet deep. Even then it was a tough call--those jokers were quick, but still we managed at times to catch one or two, gentle it out of the tangles of the net, examine it in wide-eyed wonder and then let it free to rejoin the swarm.
You see, even then we knew that they were eating mosquitoes at an astonishing rate, and if there was one thing we all hated more than school it was mosquitoes, so the dragonflies were safe to fly, and their only expense was to occasionally be caught, held for a moment, admired and then released.
Then there was the rare bird--the medium-sized green and black ones. Those were the very devil hisself to catch. They'd alight all right, but only for mere moments before flickering back into flight, and even then, if you were lucky enough to be right by one when it landed you had to be FAST to get up in its blind spot and get your fingers close. They simply never stayed put long enough.
(You can see that even this one was about to fly again--her wings are held low and forward, about to flicker eye-blink fast and launch her back into the air.)
There were others, no question. There were the truly huge ones, the ones that came closest to my prehistoric ideal. They were a beautiful mix of greens and blues, and their square, armoured abdomens wore plates of pale green and blue so large you could spot them easily even if you didn't hear the rough flutter of their huge wings. They seemed to only come out at dusk, and there was never a chance of you putting fingers on one of those, because they simply moved too quickly and erratically.
As the years went on and we were exposed to more and more of the world we discovered other colours and sizes, too. The ice-blue ones with the black-patterned wings that lived in the forests, which you'd only see around the house a few times a season. Then there are the gorgeous deep ruby red ones that seem to only live in the woods near creeks and still lakes and pools, with their thick bodies and glistening wings. I always dreamed of putting my fingers around one of those, but it was never to be. They still flit through my summer memories, though, larger than life, gleaming like precious stones, wings afire with the summer light. They're not the prehistoric giants that I thought for certain could carry you off if you'd skipped a meal, but they and their kin certainly fit my summer bill.
But then again, what if they WERE four feet long again? Can you imagine the size of the mosquitoes they'd eat? They'd be even bigger than the foot-across ones that are already down here in the swamp...
* The complete Dragonflies set on Flickr