Know Your Dragonflies, Part 1: The Skimmers

Sooo I wrote recently about wanting to improve my dragonfly skillz. Since then I’ve photographed and identified three more species, and I decided that since I really want to be able to recognize dragonfly families more readily, I should organize the photos I have into folders based on that.

In doing this and seeing how the different species fit together, I realized that I actually know a couple of the families a bit better than I thought I did. I still may not be the most qualified person to write this, but I can’t be the only person who thinks it would be useful to have some basic grasp of dragonfly taxonomy, so this post will the first of a (mumble)-part series… Know Your Dragonflies!

Know Your Dragonflies Part 1: Family Libellulidae, The Skimmers

Libellulidae is the biggest, most diverse family of dragonflies, containing 1000+ species worldwide. While there are always exceptions and variations, they tend to have relatively stout, thick abdomens (the “tail” section of the body, as opposed to the thorax, the “main” section with the wings), and many of them have colored spots or patches on the wings. Here are some of the skimmers that I’ve photographed so far.

Male Twelve-spotted Skimmer, Libellula pulchella. A great example of a skimmer with colored spots on its wings (there are indeed twelve if you only count the black ones). Also, see how the abdomen is almost as fat as the thorax? In some other families it’s much skinnier.
Calico Pennant, Celithemis elisa, one of my favorites. More colored wing patches. Also I just love this photo.
Three male Chalk-fronted Corporals, Ladona julia, perched together on the trunk of a pine tree. These are very common here right now. They do have small dark patches at the bases of their wings, and the fat abdomen with the big white patch looks very skimmer-y.
This is a crappy photo, but I’m including it because it’s the only photo I’ve taken of a member of notable skimmer genus Sympetrum. Some are really hard to tell apart, but this is a White-faced Meadowhawk, Sympetrum obtrusum. If you see a small red dragonfly in a meadow-like habitat, it’s some kind of Meadowhawk.

Have you noticed any dragonflies with spots on their wings lately? What skimmer species are common where you live? I guarantee there’s one or two!

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14 thoughts on “Know Your Dragonflies, Part 1: The Skimmers”

  1. Yay, I’m excited about this series! I have indeed been wanting to learn how to identify dragonflies better, and the tips are already helpful — keep them coming! :D

    Last summer, I found Twelve-spotted Skimmers and Calico Pennants in the parks around me, as well as Banded Pennants (lots of dark wing spots!) and Slaty Skimmers. You’ve inspired me to try to group the dragonflies I’ve seen into families, to try to get a better handle on them. :)

    1. You might know how to ID more species than I do at this point – I had to look up Slaty Skimmer (we don’t have Banded Pennants here, only Calico and Halloween). I’m really just starting out. But, I always think of bird and butterfly ID in terms of family as much as species – for example, say I see a new butterfly I can’t identify off the top of my head, if I can at least recognize it as a skipper or a hairstreak or what have you then I have somewhere to start when I get out my field guide. So, I’m trying to approach dragonflies the same way.

  2. I’m facinated by dragonflies, and I did make an attempt to learn how to identify them. My mistake was trying to use online resources that got bogged down in debates over what constitutes a subspecies, or if the specimens with a small white spot on the second segment of their abdomen was the same species as those lacking the small white spot, and so on. My eyes glassed over and I heard myself mumbling “they’re dragonflies, that’s all I need to know”.

    I’ve gotten a few good shots of some so far this spring, I need a few more to make up an entire post of nothing but dragonflies, which should come shortly.

  3. That Calico Pennant is gorgeous, Rebecca! For some reason I only ever see damselflies so your descriptions of the big dragonflies are really exciting–I’d love to see some of these someday.

    Also, where do you find these? Are they always near wetlands?

    Excited for the next in the series!

    1. Honestly, right now there are Calico Pennants hanging out in the grass along the driveway. And the Meadowhawks hang out in meadows (what a surprise!), although I haven’t seen any yet this year – that’s a photo from last fall. Really, though, I suppose I’m never very far from a wetland here, considering the sheer number of lakes and bogs in the area.

      1. I was in one of my favorite urban wetlands the other day and wouldja believe it, I found a newly emerged skimmer on a bridge resting and pumping up its wings. I started laughing right there because I’d just read this post and so I could loudly exclaim to no one in particular, “Hey, I know that’s a Skimmer!!”

        Thanks for the dragonfly profiles!

  4. I love dragonflies. We see a lot of them around our lake in Maine. Most of them are tiny with bright blue bodies. But we get some really big ones, too. When they sit still, I enjoy studying the pattern in their wings. So cool.

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