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Carolina Saddlebags

Common Name: Carolina Saddlebags.

Scientific Name: Tramea Carolina.

What to look for?  At first glimpse, you sight a large, red dragonfly. The Carolina Saddlebag is one of the boldest and brightest colored dragonflies. It has a bright red body and distinctive reddish-brown patches on the wings. A close up of its head reveals a purple-blue metallic face and large eyes that are bright red on top and dark below. Rear wings have a large reddish-brown patch or “saddlebag”, while the rest of its wings are clear with red wing veins. The bright red abdomen has black spots that cover the top and most of the sides of segments 8 and 9. On segment 10, there is a dark top spot. And it has black legs.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? The Carolina Saddlebag is most active from August to October but may be seen as early as May. Look for them around the water’s edge. They will perch periodically on tips of low vegetation.

How big are they? Large! Carolina Saddlebags are large as dragonflies go. They are two (2) inches in length. And their wingspan is approximately three (3) inches.

What are their flight patterns? Carolina Saddlebags - like other dragonflies - are expert fliers. They can fly straight up and down, hover like a helicopter and even mate mid-air. They are strong, fast flyers, able to reach speeds of up to seventeen (17) mph. If they can’t fly, they’ll starve because they only eat prey they catch while flying. Carolina Saddlebags are active daytime fliers.

How else do they behave? On hot days, Carolina Saddlebags may perch with their abdomen angled downward (seen in several photos to right); a reverse “obelisk” position that has the similar result of averting overheating by minimizing the amount of sun that strikes the abdomen. Carolina Saddlebags will move quickly in flight, but then hover and perch. Repeating over and over again.

What’s for dinner? Favorite food for the adult Carolina Saddlebag: mosquitoes. During their larval stage, Carolina Saddlebags feed on the larvae of mosquitos and other aquatic insects.

Where do they take up residence? The Carolina Saddlebag is found throughout eastern North America - from Nova Scotia south to Florida and west to Texas. They can be rare, especially in northern portions of their range. Carolina Saddlebags prefer shallow, thickly vegetated ponds, swamps, and marshlands.

When and where do they breed and nest? When Carolina Saddlebags mate, the male clasps the female by the back of her head and the two fly in tandem over water to a spot with plenty of emergent vegetation, which will provide cover for their young. The female will detach from the male and fly down to the water’s surface, gently depositing some of her eggs, then return to the male, who’s hovering a couple of feet above, guarding his mate. She’ll repeat the process. Eggs hatch in the early spring of the following year after overwintering. After molting, the larva increases in size and changes in coloring can occur – all in about an hour’s time. After going through a series of molts, Carolina Saddlebags begin showing signs of becoming an adult dragonfly. It can take an individual anywhere from one to seven weeks to become ready to emerge as an adult - usually later in summer. Once an individual has become an adult, it has two main goals: to eat and to mate. Once they reach sexual maturity, individuals seek a mate, lay eggs, and die soon afterward.

Where do they migrate? Carolina Saddlebags - as strong fliers - they are one of the few dragonfly species that migrate, routinely migrating hundreds of miles.

Do they make any interesting sounds? No.

Interesting Facts About the Carolina Saddlebags and dragonflies:

  • Carolina Saddlebags are often called “dancing gliders” because of their unusual mating flight behavior.

  • Carolina Saddlebags get their name from the large dark patches on their hind wings that seem to straddle their abdomen like the pack on a horse.

  • Carolina Saddlebags are also known as Violet-masked Gliders.

  • The Carolina Saddlebags is one of seven species of saddlebag dragonflies native to North America

  • Dragonflies of the Family Libellulidae are called skimmers because of the female’s egg laying habits – they skim the surface of the pond laying their eggs.

  • Dragonflies were some of the first winged insects to evolve, some 300 million years ago and had wingspans of up to two feet.

  • There are more than 5,000 known species of dragonflies, all of which (along with damselflies) belong to the order Odonata, which means “toothed one” in Greek and refers to the dragonfly’s serrated teeth.

  • In their larval stage, which can last up to two years, dragonflies are aquatic and eat just about anything - tadpoles, mosquitoes, fish, other insect larvae and even each other.

  • At the end of its larval stage, the dragonfly crawls out of the water, then its exoskeleton cracks open and releases the insect’s abdomen, which had been packed in like a telescope. Its four wings come out, and they dry and harden over the next several hours to days.

  • Dragonflies are very efficient hunters and catch their insect prey by grabbing it with their feet.

  • Some adult dragonflies live for only a few weeks while others live up to a year.

  • Nearly all of the dragonfly’s head is eye, so they have incredible vision that encompasses almost every angle except right behind them.

  • Dragonflies, which eat insects as adults, are a great control on the mosquito population, consuming up to hundreds of mosquitoes per day.

  • Hundreds of dragonflies of different species will gather in swarms, either for feeding or migration.

For more information on the Carolina Saddlebag and sources of information used in this blog (these are the several of the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit University of Wisconsin Milwaukee - Bug Lady, Minnesota Dragonfly, Wild South Florida, and Dragonflies of Northern Virginia

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, insects and plants. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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