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Common Whitetail

Common Name: Common Whitetail.

Scientific Name: Plathemis Lydia.

What to look for?  Big, handsome, black dragonfly with banded wings and white abdomen and tail! The male and female Common Whitetail are dimorphic with differences in appearance. The male Common Whitetail has large. broad brown or black bands in the outer portion of each wing; the wings of the female are less maculated with three spots – somewhat similar to the Twelve-spotted Skimmer. Their head and face are deep brown as is the robust thorax. The abdomen is broad and stout, almost appearing triangular. The mature male Common Whitetail is recognized by its distinctive white abdomen – enveloped by a white pruinescence. The female Common Whitetail has a brown abdomen, lacking this white, dusty coating.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? The Common Whitetail will be found here from May to September. Look for them around the water’s edge. As they have a habit of perching on pathways and sidewalks, you may notice the Common Whitetail as you go for your daily walk along the Carillon Stonegate Pond pathways. They also perch on tips of tall grasses surrounding our ponds. Often, they will return to the same perch, providing you with great views of its behavior.

How big are they? Large! The Common Whitetail averages just over one and three-fourths inches in length. And their wingspan is approximately one and one-fourth inches.

What are their flight patterns? Common Whitetails and other dragonflies are expert and agile fliers. They will fly with a burst of speed. Then they may suddenly stop and hover like a helicopter. They will fly straight up and down and make accelerated changes in direction to catch flying insects in mid-air. Common Whitetails are active daytime fliers. They stay low and often fly among the sedges, rushes and marsh grasses along the Carillon Stonegate Pond’s edge.

How else do they behave? Common Whitetails are aggressive, strong fliers entering into numerous skirmishes with other males and intruders. They elevate their distinctive white abdomen above the rest of their body and fly towards an intruder. Territories are established in areas over our ponds that cover approximately 500 square feet. They hunt by perching atop tall plants or branches and scan the surrounding area for unsuspecting prey where they launch an aerial attack to catch it as soon as a potential meal enters their territory.

What’s for dinner? Adult Common Whitetails will eat small flying insects like mosquitoes and gnats. During their larval stage, naiads feed on a wide variety of aquatic insects, such as mosquito larvae. In its aquatic larva stage, it is a mosquito's worst nightmare – first, the aquatic dragonfly larvae zip around the pond eating mosquito larvae and pupae and then, just when the adult mosquitoes get out of the pond, along comes a hungry adult Common Whitetails!

Where do they take up residence? The Common Whitetail is found throughout United States and southern Canada. Common Whitetail tend to prefer open pond and lake shores well exposed to sunlight.

When and where do they breed and nest? Common Whitetails usually mate mid-air, hovering over the water. After mating, the female flies to lay her eggs. She does this by dipping the tip of her abdomen in the shallows of the body of water while hovering just above the water's surface. She may lay over 1,000 eggs.

Where do they migrate? They do not migrate. Common Whitetail dragonflies overwinter under water while in the nymph stage of their lifecycle.

Do they make any interesting sounds? No.

Interesting Facts About the Common Whitetail:

  • 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 Common Whitetail 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 Odonata Central, Iowa State University’s Bug Guide, Dragonflies of Northern Virginia and University of Kentucky’s Office of Environmental Programs

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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