Libellula luctuosa
Widow Skimmer is a very attractive large dragonfly. Males perch conspicuously near water and defend territories with a low, butterfly-like flight. Note the male's distinctive tri-patterned wings: dark at the base, a broad white band in the center, and clear at the tips.

Widow Skimmer was the first dragonfly that caught my attention enough to look it up in a field guide. Not only are the wings beautifully patterned, but the abdomen and much of the top of the thorax is covered with pruinose blue. Note also the very dark eyes.

The dark color at the base of the wings can vary in intensity, even wing to wing, but the overall pattern remains the same despite the variation in saturation.

Photo (top two & below) 24 July 2006 Arroyo Seco Lakes
Photo (left) 5 Aug 2006 Arroyo Seco Lakes

Widow Skimmers may perch horizontally or vertically (male; right). Females (next two photos below) lack the males' blue pruinescence but show a 'ghost' pattern of the males' tri-colored wings. However, many females (and some males) have dusky tips to the wings of varying intensities. The two females (below) have quite different saturations to the dark wing tips.

Photo (right & below) 24 July 2006 Arroyo Seco Lakes
Photo (2d female below) 5 Aug 2006 Arroyo Seco Lakes

An important field character on female Widow Skimmer is the broad yellow stripes along the sides of the abdomen that merge atop the base of the abdomen and continue forward across the top of the thorax. The pale or yellow abdominal stripes of other female skimmers do not merge, nor carry on over the top of the thorax.

Photo (right) 12 Aug 2006 American River, SAC
Photo (below) 24 July 2006 Arroyo Seco River

One risk of having differentially patterned wings is that they can wear unevenly, and can break at color breaks, as did one of the lower wings on the male below. Dragonflies in general live very short lives in adult stage, and they do wear out fast in the summer sun.

Interestingly enough, although MTY records of Widow Skimmer go back to 1974, all the known records from the county are from the Arroyo Seco Lakes, adjacent to Arroyo Seco campground. These two small lakes are edged with extensive tules, favored by this species. At times in July-August, they can be quite common (e.g., 40/visit). Time and further explorations will tell whether Widow Skimmer is actually an extremely local species or not.

This dragonfly is distributed across much of the United States but is a recent immigrant to northern California, not appearing here until after 1900 (Manolis 2003). It often prefers artificial bodies of water (like farm ponds or reservoirs), and spread north with man-made habitat alterations. The Arroyo Seco Lakes, though, are apparently natural in origin.

The map shows the only currently known location for Widow Skimmer in MTY: Arroyo Seco Lakes. It seems likely, however, that they occur on other reedy ponds throughout the hot interior lowlands.

In MTY flight dates stretch from 27 May to 5 August. Elsewhere in California, flight dates span May-October (Manolis 2003).

Literature cited:
  • Manolis, T. 2003. Dragonflies and Damselflies of California. Univ. of Calif. Press, Berkeley.

Web resources:
Major identification web sites with much information on California odes include:

For sites with excellent photos to compare for identification or to simply enjoy, see: Many of these sites have links to other useful pages. Kathy Biggs's site is particularly useful in her selection of links.

All photos © Don Roberson 2007


Page created 24 Mar 2007