Widow Skimmers

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Filed under Outdoor Notes

June 3, 2012

I started seeing my first Widow Skimmers about ten days ago, in the last week of May. They are one of the most common dragonflies in our area, and they will be hunting the area around the lake throughout the summer.

At first, one only sees a few Widow Skimmers (LIbellula luctuosa), but in early June, there is an explosive emergence, and a short walk through the talk grass along the lake shore will roust them out by the dozens.

Widow Skimmer, female, (Libellula luctuosa)

Widow Skimmer, female

At first they all look sorta like the females: two gold racing stripes and a black area at the base of each wing.

Widow Skimmer, newly emerged male, (Libellula luctuosa)

Widow Skimmer, newly emerged male

Over time, however, the abdomen of the male will slowly turn blue, and the his wings will pick up a powder-blue patch outboard of the black area on each wing.1

Widow Skimmer, fully developed male, (Libellula luctuosa)

Widow Skimmer, fully developed male

There are several intermediate stages, which, in my early days of photographing dragonflies, I thought were all different species. They are not.

Widow Skimmer, early intermediate male, (Libellula luctuosa)

Widow Skimmer, early intermediate male

Later in their development, the males will sport blue “shoulder boards.”

Widow Skimmer, early intermediate male, (Libellula luctuosa)

Widow Skimmer, later intermediate male

Some males will actively patrol along the water’s edge. Others seem to lurk nearby. These lurkers are referred to as “satellite males.”  Apparently the active lads have the most success finding mates; the satellite males are seldom successful.2

Well, life is like that.

Widow Skimmer, mating pair, (Libellula luctuosa)

Widow Skimmer, mating pair

  1. For those who are wondering how to tell the girls from the boys among dragonflies: in general, the abdomen of a female will be more stout (I believe the vernacular is “more junk in her trunk”). Beyond that, you have to look at the reproductive organs at the tip of the abdomen. In Widow Skimmers, the  equipage of the male (the cerci) looks like claspers, the female–well, she does not have cerci. []
  2. Moore, A. J. (1989), The Behavioral Ecology of Libellula luctuosa (Burmeister) (Odonata: Libellulidae). Ethology, 80: 120–136. []

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