Widow Skimmer

Common Name: Widow Skimmer.

Scientific Name: Libellula Luctuosa.

What to look for?  Big, handsome dragonfly with large, distinctive tri-patterned wings! The basal portion of the wings are dark brown to black. This is followed by a band of white. And the end of the wing is the more traditional translucent band. No other species of dragonflies has these wings with broad dark patches at the base. The abdomen and much of the top of the thorax is covered in a powdery blue coloring. Their face is brown. The legs are black. The female is lighter in the color than the male with brown tips on its wings and brown basal wing patches.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? The Widow Skimmer will be found here from May to September. Look for them flying around the water’s edge. They will often perch on tips of our tall grasses and water plants surrounding our ponds.

How big are they? Large! The Widow Skimmer averages just under two inches in length. And their wingspan is approximately one and one-half inches.

What are their flight patterns? The Widow Skimmer is an active flier and males may be seen regularly battling over territories. They stay low and often fly among the sedges, rushes and marsh grasses along the Carillon Stonegate Pond’s edge. From their perches located at the tip of tall grasses and wildflowers, they fly up to capture prey.

How else do they behave? Widow Skimmers are strong fliers. They aggressively defend their territory from other males and intruders. In the evening, adults often hang below twigs on shrubs growing at the edge of the pond.

What’s for dinner? Flying insects! Adult Widow Skimmers will eat almost any small, soft-bodied flying insect, including mosquitoes, sweat bees, hover flies, flies, and flying ants. Larval dragonflies are called naiads. During their larval stage, naiads feed on a wide variety of smaller aquatic insects.

Where do they take up residence? The Widow Skimmer is found across most of the U.S. except along the gulf coast, the Great Basin area and the Rocky Mountain region. Widow Skimmers tend to prefer still bodies of water, including marshes, ponds and lakes that are well exposed to sunlight.

When and where do they breed and nest? Widow Skimmers mate near ponds. When they reproduce, they will fly in tandem and form a wheel or heart shape. Unlike some other dragonfly species where males guard egg-laying females, Widow Skimmer males leave the female by herself, “widowing” her as she deposits her eggs just under the surface of the water. Once the Widow Skimmer eggs hatch, the life cycle of a dragonfly larva begins as a nymph. A nymph looks like a little alien creature or a squat bug. They live underwater and eat smaller aquatic insects including other naiads sharing the same pond. This phase of their life cycle can take up to several years to complete. They eventually emerge from the water and begin crawling on land to attach to a shrub or low plant. They will molt again and emerge as adults in late spring or summer, depending on the climate.

Where do they migrate? Widow Skimmers do not migrate.

Do they make any interesting sounds? No.

Interesting Facts About the Widow Skimmer (and dragonflies in general):

  • Unlike other dragonfly species, Widow Skimmer males leave the female alone by herself as she lays her eggs; thus, making her a “Widow” in this process.

  • Another reference to the name “Widow” suggests that the dark basal portion of the wings looks like a widow's black shawl

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

  • The density of male Widow Skimmer dragonflies increases dramatically during the breeding season.

  • 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 or more, 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.

  • 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.

For more information on the Widow 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, U.S. National Park Service, Wisconsin Odonata Survey 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!