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Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Common Name: Twelve-spotted Skimmer.

Scientific Name: Libellula Pulchella.

What to look for?  Big, handsome, black dragonfly with spotted wings! In addition to its size, the male Twelve-spotted Skimmer is easily recognized by its wing spots. They have two sets of wings. They have twelve dark brown or black wing spots (three spots per wing) - hence, the name “Twelve-spotted”, as well as eight white wing spots (two per wing). The basal area of the hind wing is also whitish. Females have the twelve brown wing spots but not the white spots. Their abdomens are brown with a yellow stripe along each side.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? The Twelve-spotted Skimmer will be found here from May to September. Look for them around the water’s edge. They will often 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 Twelve-spotted Skimmer averages just over two inches in length. And their wingspan is just under two inches.

What are their flight patterns? Twelve-spotted Skimmers 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. Twelve-spotted Skimmers 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? Twelve-spotted Skimmers are aggressive, strong fliers entering into numerous skirmishes with other males and intruders, rarely being displaced, which often makes it difficult to catch. Territories are established in areas over the water that are free of surface vegetation. 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 Twelve-spotted Skimmers will eat almost any soft-bodied flying insect including mosquitoes, flies, butterflies, moths, mayflies, and flying ants or termites. During their larval stage, naiads feed on a wide variety of aquatic insects, such as mosquito larvae, other aquatic fly larvae, mayfly larvae, and freshwater shrimp. They will also eat small fish and tadpoles. 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 Twelve-spotted Skimmer!

Where do they take up residence? The Twelve-spotted Skimmer is found throughout United States and southern Canada. Twelve-spotted Skimmers tend to prefer open pond and lake shores well exposed to sunlight.

When and where do they breed and nest? Twelve-spotted Skimmers usually mate mid-air, away from the water. After males and females mate, the female flies singly, without the male attached, 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.

Where do they migrate? Twelve-spotted Skimmers have been seen in southward movements of dragonflies along the Atlantic coast, and there is some indication that they turn up in the south only late in the season, possibly as migrants from the north. And, with an expected lifespan of less than one year, it is most likely a one-way trip. But, with their larvae remaining, the next generation will take its southern migration the following fall.

Do they make any interesting sounds? No.

Interesting Facts About the Twelve-spotted Skimmer (and dragonflies in general):

  • They were once called the Ten-spotted Skimmer referring to the ten white patches found on the wings but renamed Twelve-spotted Skimmer for the more conspicuous brown patches on the wings.

  • 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 Twelve-spotted Skimmer 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 Guide, Minnesota Dragonfly, Wisconsin Odonata Survey and Idaho State University’s Digital Atlas.

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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