A Dragonfly a Day- Black-tailed Skimmer

Originally published 06/07/2015.

The Black-tailed Skimmer, Orthetrum cancellatum, is a beautiful dragonfly and one that I chose as the males display pruinescence perfectly. Pruinescence is an additional joy to odonata watching, a waxy secretion from the males (and some females) of certain species, that adds to the beauty of the insect.

Male Black-tailed Skimmer. Photographer: Andreas Trepte

Male Black-tailed Skimmer. Photographer: Andreas Trepte

Habitat

The Black-tailed Skimmer favours lakes, ponds, canals and occasionally slow-moving rivers. It perches on exposed surfaces so shows a clear preference for sites with some partially exposed margins. It can tolerate areas with high numbers of fish.

This dragonfly is common in most of England and Wales and is scarce in Scotland.

Appearance

In both sexes ,the wings are clear with a yellow costa and black wing spots. The abdomen narrows at the tip, giving it an obviously pointed appearance.

Male: the abdomen has powder blue pruinescence, with a brown-black tip on segments 8-10. The abdomen also has orange arcs on the edges but this is often covered by the pruinescence. The eyes are green/blue.

Female: the abdomen is yellow, sometimes slightly green and dulls with age. It has two black stripes running down the abdomen, giving the appearance of a ladder. The eyes are olive/brown.

ARKive image - Female black-tailed skimmer, dorsal view

Behaviour

Males are territorial and protect their territories from perches. They often choose to perch on exposed surfaces, including bare earth, dead wood and concrete paths. They fly low and rapidly over water, and often fly with their wings raised into a shallow ‘V’ shape.

Similar Species

The Keeled Skimmer, Orthetrum coerulescens, is similar, along with some Chaser species. The Black-tailed Skimmer can be told apart from other Chaser species by the lack of dark colouration at the base of the wings. It can be told apart from the Keeled Skimmer by the presence of the black markings on the abdomen as the Keeled Skimmer does not have any black on the abdomen.

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Rachel Davies

Rachel Davies

Currently studying for an MRes in Wildlife Conservation at the University of Chester. Research focuses on the White-faced Darter, an endangered dragonfly species here in Britain. Rachel also has a blog titled 'working with wildlife'.
Rachel Davies

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