|The female Comanche Skimmer looks very different from the male (pictured below).|
The heat of the summer is often a good time to search for dragonflies, specifically the skimmers, which comprise the largest family of dragonflies. They are generally the most obvious, too, as they are frequently seen around ponds lakes, and streams, and perch conspicuously on twigs, bushes, and branches.
Skimmers are often large and colorful with distinctive wing patterns, and many species of skimmers are sexually dimorphic, meaning the males and females of the same species are different in appearance. Males frequently develop pruinescence or exhibit a frosty or dusty-looking coating when mature, while most females have little to no pruinescence at maturity. In our area, some of the less common species include the Gray-waisted Skimmer (Cannaphila insularis), Checkered Setwing (Dythemis fugax), Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami), and Comanche Skimmer (Libellula comanche).
The male Gray-waisted Skimmer has greenish-blue eyes, a face that is white in front and metallic blue on top, and a dark thorax divided by several pale stripes. The wings are clear except for dark extreme tips, and the abdomen is black on the back half and pruinose gray or white on the front half, which gives rise to its common name. Females and juveniles have reddish-brown over blue-gray eyes, and the abdomen is yellow or orange with brown or black in between segments. These skimmers prefer shady, marshy ponds, lakes, and streams, particularly those with cattails or tall reeds, and are on the wing from June to September.
|Gray-waisted Skimmer, male|
From mid-April to mid-December, you can find Checkered Setwings, as they are widely distributed and sometimes locally abundant. The male has bright red eyes and face, a reddish-brown thorax with obscured dark stripes, and clear wings except for a large patch of brown coloring near the base. The abdomen is black with two pairs of pale streaks at the base of each segment, giving it a checkered black-and-white appearance. Females and juveniles are similar, but often have a paler face and a pale thorax with narrow dark stripes. These setwings favor slow-flowing streams and rivers, ponds, and generally open areas with tall vegetation but little canopy.
|Checkered Setwing, female|
Male Needham’s Skimmers have reddish-orange eyes and face, thorax orange in front and paler on sides, and wings that have orange veins along the leading edge and clear along the trailing edge, giving them a somewhat bicolored appearance. The abdomen is reddish-orange with a dark dorsal stripe down its length. Females and juveniles have brown eyes and a pale face, yellowish thorax, and abdomen yellow throughout with the same dark dorsal stripe as the male. On the wing from late April to early October, this skimmer prefers marshy ponds and lakes, and is often found perching low on vegetation surrounding or overhanging the water.
|Needham's Skimmer, male|
Comanche Skimmers can be found on the wing from May to mid-October, around springs, seeps, and sluggish areas of clear-running streams. The male has aqua-blue eyes, a white face, and both thorax and abdomen with a uniformly blue pruinescence. The wings are clear but for a bi-colored black and white pterostigma, a group of specialized cells in the leading edge of the wing towards the wing tip. Females and juveniles have reddish-brown to pale blue eyes and a pale face, a cream-colored thorax with broad dark shoulder stripes, and a mostly yellow abdomen with a broad dark dorsal stripe running down the length.
|Comanche Skimmer, male|
Brave the heat during these hot months of the year and take a walk around a pond, stroll along a stream, or be on the lookout when on the lake, because you just might see one of these interesting summertime skimmers!