Talk about Skimmer dragonflies can often get caught up in the difference between the Skimmer family (Libellulidae) of dragonflies and their almost namesake genera Libellula. Species in the Libellula genera all have the common name Skimmer attacked to them, unlike other genera in the family with common names such as saddlebags, meadowhawks, pennants and the like.
The Libellula genera consists of eighteen different species, making it the largest genera in the family in terms of total number of species. They come in all shapes and colors. Different species sport different wing patterns. Therefore, there is really no one outstanding physical characteristic to help a lay person unite the group.
Three different species, Four-spotted Skimmers (Libellula quadrimaculata), Eight-spotted Skimmers (Libellula forensis), Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella), use the number of wing spots as their naming convention. Two dark wing patches on the Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) technically qualifies its being called the two-spotted skimmer.
The top picture shows a Four-spotted Skimmer (Libellula quadrimaculata).
Eight-spotted Skimmers (Libellula forensis) have the least range of all the so called spotted skimmers. They live along the Pacific Coast and Rocky Mountains. The number of spots refers to the number of dark spots on the wings.
Twelve-spotted Skimmers (Libellula pulchella) show another different spotted wing pattern. The brown body of the males and females pretty much remains the same. The presence of the mostly yellow lateral abdominal stripe differentiates it from the female Common Whitetaile.
Widow Skimmer. Mature males develop white in the wings while mature females lack the white wing coloration.
Red bodies mean that Neon Skimmers (Libellula croceipennis) can easily be confused with the Flame Skimmers, and possible many of the local Meadowhawk species. At reset, skimmer wings tend to be flat rather than forward pointing as with the similar looking Cardinal Meadowhawk. So wing position at rest provides a good initial field identification clue.
The wing color an the Neon Skimmer is also less pronounced compared to the the amber shade of color on the Flame Skimmer. This identification confusion is really only important in the five states of the Neon Skimmer range, Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
Flame Skimmers (Libellula saturata) have a slightly larger range of the Pacific Coast and Rocky Mountain states. The picture highlights the flat wing pattern and the extended amber markings on the wings.
Flame Skimmer (Libellula saturata) female with the less colorful brown body.
Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami) is the East Coast version of the red bodied skimmer. For all intent and purposes it has a similar identification problem. Only experts can easily differentiate the Needham’s and the Golden-winged Skimmers. Males both have red bodies with a black stripe on the abdomen.
Female Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami) have a tan body with dark stripe on the abdomen.
Here’s a picture of a female Golden-winged Skimmer for comparative purposes. Both Needham’s and Golden-winged Skimmers have overlapping ranges along the East Coast, therefore identity conflicts are easy to experience.
Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans) are fairly large dragonflies. There’s no mistaking the male, with the completely blue body. The picture shows a female. These dragonflies are sufficiently unique looking so as to not mistake them for others in the field.
Yellow-sided Skimmers like the Spangled Skimmers have yellow on the side of the abdomen. The absence of white spots on the wings is the best initial field identification clue for the Yellow-sided dragonfly. They are more common in the Southeast than the Northeast.
Slaty Skimmers are very common east of the Rocky Mountains. Males are easily identified by the dark or Slaty gray bodies.
Painted Skimmers sort of resemble the mor popular Halloween Pennants. The less amount of white stripe or coloration on the side of the thorax is one great to identify the Painted Skimmer. Otherwise, most experts suggest that the wing pattern on the Painted Shimmer is much less pronounced than the wing pattern on the Halloween Pennant. They are fairly common in East Coast and Gulf Coast states.
Hoary Skimmers are a very regional species, limited to Arizona and Southern California. The distinctive spots on the wings are a great field identification clue.