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Desert Whitetail

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Plathemis subornata

Hagen, 1861

Order Odonata
Suborder Anisoptera
Superfamily Libelluloidea
Family Libellulidae
Genus Plathemis
Species subornata Hagen, 1861 [Plathemis]


This is a western desert species is similar to Common Whitetail (P. lydia). Females are easily distinguished by the lack of color apically in the wings. The males typically have a more pronounced clear streak through the dark midbasal area of all wings, but this becomes obscured in older males. The area between the dark spots becomes entirely pruinose in the Desert Whitetail and the ventral tubercle on first abdominal segment is shallowly bifurcate, appearing "V" shaped. The face is yellowish with the black median stripe becoming obscured as the face darkens with age. The thorax is dark brown with two pale yellow oblique lateral stripes that are obscured with age. The wings in both sexes have a dark basal area, as described above, extending out to the triangle and a seco nd broad stripe in the outer half of the wing that is significantly lighter in its middle third, sometimes appearing clear. The stocky abdomen is dark brown with a series of interrupted yellow stripes laterally. Segment 8 is not expanded laterally in females.


Total length: 41-52 mm; abdomen: 22-31 mm; hindwing: 31-38 mm.

Similar Species

Differences with Common Whitetail are given above under that species. Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella ) has brown wingtips and Hoary Skimmer (L. nodisticta ) has a brown spot at the nodus rather than a broad stripe.


Desert pools, ponds and slow streams with thick emergent vegetation and mud bottoms.


This species is strictly western, found in semi- and full desert environments, often alongside Common Whitetail. The larvae often transform just above the water on thick clusters or reeds and grasses. This species was reported among the most common in alkaline lakes and ponds of Nevada; "...it was seemingly restricted to the pond areas, where it beat over the water in regular circuits..." Desert Whitetail was along with Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis ) and Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum ) were the only inhabitants of the smaller springs, often consisting of only muddy seeps. This desert species has been reported from Nanaimo, British Columbia, constituting a considerable range extension northward.


Western U.S., southwest Canada and northern Mexico.