Today when I walked on to my deck for the first time,
I flushed a dragonfly that had perched atop a pole supporting one of the plants growing in a container. The distinctive color pattern on its wings and body color told me it was a widow skimmer (Lebellula luctuosa).
The male widow skimmer (called a king) is one of our most recognizable dragonflies. It is a medium-sized (1.2 – 2 inches long; with a 1-1.5-inch wingspan) dragonfly with wings marked with black and white blotches. The black blotches extend outwards from its body toward the tips of its wings. Much narrower white markings are located just beyond the black blotches. The insect’s body is powder blue.
In contrast, the wings of the female (called a queen) are marked with a single dark blotch on each wing.
While this dragonfly is most common along the borders of lakes, and swamps, it also ventures into our backyard. The widow skimmer is most common in the summer but can also be spotted in the spring and autumn.
This distinctive dragonfly lives as an adult for just a few weeks. During this time males establish a territory up to 250 square acres which it vigorously defends again the intrusions of others.
The widow skimmer habitually uses perches. The black skimmer I spotted today flew off and returned to the same perch several times in a few minutes.
If are you interested in photographing a widow skimmer, all you have to do is to stand motionless a short distance away from a favorite perch and wait for it to return. This saves you having to scamper about the yard trying to snap a picture.
The widow skimmer feeds a wide variety of small soft-bodied invertebrates such as spiders, flying ants, hover flies, and even mosquitoes. Prey is snatched from the air with its legs.
If you spot a widow skimmer in your yard, don’t be afraid of it. Widow skimmers do not attack or bite humans. Just enjoy its beauty and mastery of the air as it patrols the air space above your lawn and gardens.