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Posts Tagged ‘male Widow Skimmer’

We are at a time of the summer, when it is unlikely that I will see any new dragonflies for the season. Several species will emerge towards the end of the summer, but for now I see the same familiar faces over and over again.

I really am content, though, with photographing the beauty of these wonderful aerial acrobats and never grow tired of photographing the same ones over and over. Each outing with my camera is an opportunity to capture images in a different way, in different environments, and in situations with different lighting.

Last  week I was delighted to capture these images of male Widow Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula luctuosa) during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I just love the brown and white patches on the wings of these dragonflies that make them really stand out from all other dragonflies in our area.

These shots also illustrate the fact that the shapes of the front wings of most dragonflies are different from the rear wings. I suspect that the different shapes play a role in enabling the amazing flight capabilities of dragonflies, although I confess that I do not understand very well the aerodynamics of dragonfly flight—their flight seems almost magical to me.

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love dragonflies with patterned wings and one of the coolest ones in our area is the male Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa), which has a distinctive combination of one dark and one white blotch per wing. Eventually the immature male in the first photo will turn bluish in color, but for now he has the brown and yellow colors that he shares with the females. The females have only a single large blotch on each wing, so usually I can tell the genders apart.

When the male first emerges, however, the white blotches may be hard to see, so I have to look more closely at other aspects of the dragonfly’s body. I am pretty confident that the dragonfly in the second photo is a very young male Widow Skimmer.

It was really easy to track a male Widow Skimmer dragonfly in the air, because its colorful wings made it look almost like a butterfly. However, the dragonfly in the first photo was remarkably skittish and would perch only momentarily in between its patrols over the waters of the small pond that I visited on Monday. Eventually my patience paid off and I was able to get a shot, albeit from a relatively long distance away.

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Most of the Widow Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula luctuosa) that I have seen this season have been immature males, like the one in the second photo below that I spotted on Wednesday at Occoquan Regional Park. When they are that young, their colors and wing markings match those of their female siblings.

As they mature, however, the males develop the additional white patches on their wings that are simply spectacular, like those of the mature male Widow Skimmer in the first photo that I spotted later that same day. Their bodies also turn blue and with varying degrees of pruinosity, the dusty looking coating on their abdomens that gives them a frosted look. (According to the Educalingo website, the word pruinose comes “from Latin pruīnōsus frost-covered, from pruīna hoarfrost.”)

We have moved into the lazy days of the summer, when dragonflies are now a frequent sight at most of the ponds in our area. Hopefully you are seeing them too. Most of those dragonflies are probably from the skimmer family, a large group of dragonflies in which many species tend to be habitat generalists. I will certainly be photographing lots of skimmers, but will also be keeping an eye out for more uncommon species, like the Cyrano Darner that I featured yesterday.

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Things are not always as they seem. When I spotted this Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) last Friday at the edge of a pond in Fairfax County, I thought for a moment that it might be a female. After all, females have yellow and brown bodies and have one large dark blotch per wing, while males have blue bodies and have one dark and one light blotch per wing.

However, immature male Widow Skimmers look a lot like females, as is the case with many dragonfly species. The colors of “fresh” dragonflies tend to be pale and wing patterns may not have developed fully yet, so you cannot rely exclusively on those markings for identification.

The first photo below provides a pretty clear view of the “claspers” at the tip of the abdomen, which indicates that this is a male—the terminal appendages are often the most important indication of the gender of a dragonfly. For comparison purposes I have included a photo of a mature male Widow Skimmer at this same location from a 2019 posting entitled Male Widow Skimmer dragonfly. It may be a little hard to envision, but the dragonfly in the first photo will eventually grow to look like the one in the second image.

You may wonder why this species is called a “Widow Skimmer.” Someone apparently thought the dark patches on the wings looked like the mourning crepe that historically widows wore. Even the Latin name “luctuosa” means “sorrowful.”

I used to hesitate a bit when I used the the words male and widow together, wondering if perhaps I should call a male of this species a Widower Skimmer. Over time I have gotten used to this seeming incongruity and now I even happily speak about male damselflies. I wonder how those guys feel about being called damsels.

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most dragonflies have clear wings, so I am happy when I see one with dark patches on its wings. It is even more exciting to see one with both brown and white patches, like this male Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) that I spotted on Saturday at Occoquan Regional Park in nearby Lorton, Virginia.

When it comes to identifying dragonfly species, I have learned to focus not only on the colors of the wing patterns, but also on the number of such patches and their shapes. In the case of the Widow Skimmer, for example, both the males and females have the brown patches on the portion of the wings nearest the body.

Why are they called “Widow Skimmers?” Someone apparently thought the dark patches looked like the mourning crepe that historically widows wore. Even the Latin name “luctuosa” means “sorrowful.”

I used to be confused by the use of a female-associated word like “widow” with males, but I have gotten used to it. In fact, I no longer give a second thought to the idea of male damselflies, though I don’t have a clue about how that label affects their self-image.

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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