I mean dragonflies and damselflies, the insect order Odonata. These are much older than fairy tales, and are definitely real. They go back to the Carboniferous, when some of them were huge, with a wingspread of an owl.
Today, they are some of the largest insects around us, flying with stupendous agility. They fly after prey, and after each other, patrolling their territories and seeking mates. Some sit on perches, while others seem never to settle (although they all land at night, and in the morning, need to warm up before they can take to the air again).
The eggs hatch in ponds or streams and the nymphs are serious predators, even those of delicate damselflies. Most have one generation a year, staying safely in the water in winter. At the right time and the right size, they crawl out of the water and transform, in a single molt, to winged jewels.
Their eyes are huge and, judging from their precise behavior, their vision is acute. As you watch them, they are watching you, along with everything else around them. They can even recognize landmarks that define the limits of their territories. Success depends on being aware of their world. They appear to be very aware.
Some of them stay close to their natal water, but others venture farther afield in search of food. Their wings shine and sparkle in the sunlight as they fly with no conspicuous effort. On a perch (a branch, a grass stem, the ground, a clothesline, your shoulder), some will let their wings droop, just a little. Resting when they can, they can be back in the air in an instant, evading birds, catching bugs, staying alive.
After they mate, the female lays her eggs in the water, and a new generation of nymphs will hatch. Not all will survive, but each year, they sustain the populations of a dozen or more species in the pond. And each year, we marvel at their appearance.