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Widow Skimmer

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Libellula luctuosa

Burmeister, 1839

Order Odonata
Suborder Anisoptera
Superfamily Libelluloidea
Family Libellulidae
Genus Libellula
Species luctuosa Burmeister, 1839 [Libellula]
Syn Libellula basalis Say, 1839
Syn Libellula odiosa Hagen, 1861


This is one the most widespread and easily recognized dragonflies in the region. Its face is pale yellow or brown in females and young males, but darkens to black along with the top of the head in mature males. The pterothorax is dark brown with a pale yellow middorsal stripe that extends onto the prothorax. This area becomes obscured with brown color in females and black in mature males, ultimately turning powder blue. The sides are pale yellow with an ill-defined dark stripe on the third lateral suture. This area becomes obscured in females and turns a dark brassy brown in older males. There are large black bands on the wings that extend basally to the nodus in both sexes. The wingtips are occasionally darkened, especially in females and western-individuals. Mature males develop a white area beyond the basal dark stripe that extends to the wing apex. The legs are black. The abdomen is only moderately depressed and tapers rearward. It is pale yellow with broad black middorsal and lateral stripes. The yellow is interrupted only by a black carinae. Segment 8 in females is slightly expanded laterally. The caudal appendages are black. The color of the abdomen darkens in both sexes and becomes powder pruinose blue in males.


Total length: 38-50 mm; abdomen: 24-32 mm; hindwing: 33-41 mm.

Similar Species

No other skimmer has broad wing bands in both the fore- and hindwings.


Still bodies of water, including marshy ponds, lakes and borrow pits


This widespread species is found nearly everywhere in the North America except along the gulf of the southeastern United States and the Great Basin. It is an active flier around nearly any still body of water, creeks or stream, where males may be seen regularly combating over territories. Females rhythmically dip their abdomens to the water while flying just above the surface, and unaccompanied, but occasionally guarded by the male. Three different variations of this species have been recognized, including the paler odiosa form that intergrades with the darker nominate form in the Hill Country of Texas. The density of males increases dramatically during the breeding season, with two or more males simultaneously defending a territory.


Widespread throughout US. and southeastern Canada; absent from Great Plains.