Posts Tagged ‘Libellula vibrans’

Great Blue Skimmer (mature females)

September 27, 2017

Two Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula vibrans) were photographed during photowalks at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge (OBNWR), Prince William County, Virginia USA.

Both individuals are mature female, as indicated by their terminal appendages, muted coloration, and tattered wings. They were perching in shady hidey-holes relatively far from water.

Female Great Blue Skimmers have a pair of flanges beneath their eighth abdominal segment that are used to scoop and hold a few drops of water when laying eggs (oviposition), hence the family name “Skimmer.” Remember that all dragonflies and damselflies have a 10-segmented abdomen, numbered from front to back.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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Aging gracefully, revisited

August 28, 2017

Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) was spotted near a vernal pool in the forest at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP), Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a mature female, as indicated by her terminal appendages, discolored abdomen, and tattered wings.

Female Great Blue Skimmers have a pair of flanges beneath their eighth abdominal segment that are used to scoop and hold a few drops of water when laying eggs (oviposition), hence the family name “Skimmer.” Remember that all dragonflies and damselflies have a 10-segmented abdomen, numbered from front to back.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Aging gracefully

August 26, 2017

Seems like yesterday all of the Skimmer dragonflies (Family Libellulidae) were young and vibrant; now most of them look old and tattered.

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) was spotted near a vernal pool in the forest at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP), Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a mature male, as indicated by his terminal appendages, discolored abdomen, and tattered wings.

This male has mated many times, as indicated by the scratches on his abdomen.

Males that have mated often have marks on their abdomen where the female legs have scratched them. This is especially obvious in species in which males develop pruinosity, as the pruinosity on the midabdomen is scratched off, and the signs are visible at some distance. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 390-392). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Reflections on life

Aging gracefully. Yep, that’s my goal. Sometimes I think I’m down with the plan; sometimes I feel more like this dragonfly looks — old and tattered! Having celebrated another birthday recently, it was impossible for me to avoid looking at this dragonfly as a metaphor for my life. Although it’s undeniably true that I’m closer to the end of the road of life than the beginning, I’m happy to be “still on the right side of the grass,” as one of my British friends said soon after life-saving surgery.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Fatal injuries?

October 2, 2015

After several years of dragonfly hunting, I’ve seen two dragonflies with three wings rather than four: in one case, I can only speculate how the injury occurred; in the other case, I witnessed the injury firsthand.

Can dragonflies survive with three wings? The answer is yes and no: if they can fly, they can survive; if they can’t fly, they can’t survive.

If they can’t fly, they’ll starve because they only eat prey they catch while flying. Source Credit: 14 Fun Facts About Dragonflies, by Sarah Zielinski, Smithsonian.com.

On the same day I discovered a male Roseate Skimmer dragonfly (Orthemis ferruginea) at Huntley Meadows Park, I heard a loud splash in a pool of water behind me. I turned around quickly and noticed a dragonfly struggling to free itself from the surface of the water. After a few seconds, the dragonfly escaped from the water and flew briefly before landing on the ground near the place where I was standing. I was able to shoot four photos before the dragonlfy flew away.

Turns out that individual was an old, injured female Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans). One of her wings was broken near its base; I don’t know how the injury occurred. She was able to fly, but flight was labored at best.

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an old, injured female.

23 SEP 2015 | HMP | Great Blue Skimmer (old female, injured)

Two years earlier, I was photographing dragonflies along the boardwalk in the central wetland area. One male Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly in particular caught my attention: he repeatedly engaged one or more Common Green Darner dragonflies (Anax junius) in brief aerial dogfights. I vividly remember thinking, “Dude, you must have a death wish — those darners can be vicious predators!” Almost immediately afterward, a darner sheared off one of the male Great Blue Skimmer’s wings just like a buzzsaw and looped around for the kill shot. The skimmer dove for cover in vegetation overhanging the boardwalk (shown below) and his life was spared. I shot one poor-quality photo of the injured male Great Blue Skimmer; he flew away when I tried to move closer.

An injured dragonfly, possibly a male Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans), spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual lost a wing during a fight with a male Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius).

04 SEP 2013 | HMP | Great Blue Skimmer (male, injured)

Did the female Great Blue Skimmer meet the same fate as the male? Who knows? I know there were lots of Common Green Darners hawking invisible airborne insects over a meadow near the location where I spotted the injured female. And I know Common Green Darners feed voraciously in order to store energy for migration. Perhaps both skimmers were attacked as a potential food source.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

The Bronze Age, revisited

September 10, 2015

The same species of dragonfly may be different in appearance depending upon gender, age, and natural variation.

For example, the first two dragonflies featured in this post are female Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula vibrans), although they look so different from each other that a beginner odonate-hunter could be fooled into thinking they’re two different species! In this case, the difference in appearance of the females is due to age: one is old; the other is young. Contrast the appearance of the two females with the mature male shown in the last photo.

The first individual is an old female, as indicated by its bronze coloration, tattered wings, and terminal appendages.

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a mature female.

06 SEP 2015 | HMP | Great Blue Skimmer (old female)

The next specimen is a young female, as indicated by its “fresher” coloration, pristine wings, and terminal appendages.

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

05 JUL 2015 | HMP | Great Blue Skimmer (young female)

All Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies, including both males and females, show several field markers that can be used to identify the species, including blue eyes, white to mostly-white faces, and mostly tan femora (sing. femur).

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

31 MAY 2015 | HMP | Great Blue Skimmer (mature male)

Related Resource: The Bronze Age.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Odonart

July 14, 2015

I’m a man of many monikers: sometimes I refer to myself as “Yodonata” when I’m wearing my teacher hat; other times, I like to think of myself as an “odonartist,” always on the lookout for somewhat elusive “arty” shots of odonates (dragonflies and damselflies). Today, I’m wearing both my teacher hat and artist hat, although I just can’t see myself wearing a beret!

[Reluctantly donning my beret…] I have photographed many Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula vibrans) but I like the crisp, clean, and simple look of this image more than shots with a cluttered background. Very “arty.”

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a mature male.

17 JUN 2015 | HMP | Great Blue Skimmer (mature male)

[Swapping hats…] This individual is a mature male that has mated many times, as indicated by his coloration, terminal appendages, and scratches on the abdomen.

Males that have mated often have marks on their abdomen where the female legs have scratched them. This is especially obvious in species in which males develop pruinosity, as the pruinosity on the midabdomen is scratched off, and the signs are visible at some distance. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 390-392). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Bar-winged Skimmer dragonfly (mature male)

June 20, 2015

Bar-winged Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula axilena) look similar to Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula vibrans).

A Bar-winged Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula axilena) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a mature male.

10 JUN 2015 | HMP | Bar-winged Skimmer (mature male)

Several key field markers can be used to differentiate the two species of dragonflies, as shown in the following annotated images.

A Bar-winged Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula axilena) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a mature male.

10 JUN 2015 | HMP | Bar-winged Skimmer (mature male)

Bar-winged Skimmers have dark reddish-brown eyes and a metallic black face; Great Blue Skimmers have blue eyes and a white face. Also notice the Bar-winged Skimmer has a small black bar along the “costa” (the leading edge of both the fore- and hind wings), located between the nodus and pterostigma — hence its common name, “Bar-winged Skimmer“; the Great Blue Skimmer does not.

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

31 MAY 2015 | HMP | Great Blue Skimmer (mature male)

Side view of Great Blue Skimmer (shown above); dorsal view (shown below).

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a young male.

31 MAY 2015 | HMP | Great Blue Skimmer (young male)

The following gallery features several more photos of the same Bar-winged Skimmer spotted at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP) on 10 June 2015.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (young female)

June 12, 2015

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) was spotted on 20 May 2015 during a photowalk alongside the wetlands at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP). This individual is a young female, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages.

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an immature female.

20 MAY 2015 | HMP | Great Blue Skimmer (young female)

The young female was sheltering in vegetation close to the ground.

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an immature female.

20 MAY 2015 | HMP | Great Blue Skimmer (young female)

She was quite skittish, flying to a new location whenever I violated her comfort zone.

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an immature female.

20 MAY 2015 | HMP | Great Blue Skimmer (young female)

Look closely at the full-size version of the following annotated image. Female Great Blue Skimmers have a pair of flanges beneath their eighth abdominal segment (S8) that are used to scoop water when laying eggs (oviposition), hence the family name “Skimmer.” Remember that all dragonflies and damselflies have a 10-segmented abdomen, numbered from front to back.

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an immature female.

20 MAY 2015 | HMP | Great Blue Skimmer (young female)

Immature Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies and immature Slaty Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula incesta) — including both females and males — look very similar. In my opinion, the best field marker for differentiating the two species is femur coloration: Great Blue Skimmer femora are mostly tan; Slaty Skimmer femora are mostly black.

The following female Slaty Skimmer was spotted along the “Hike-Bike Trail” at Huntley Meadows Park. Contrast the difference in coloration of the Slaty Skimmer femurs (below) with the Great Blue Skimmer femurs (above).

A Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) spotted along the "Hike-Bike Trail" at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

04 JUN 2012 | HMP | Slaty Skimmer (young female)

Related Resources:

  • Great Blue Skimmers – “The femora are pale over their basal half with the remaining length, tibiae and tarsi black.”
  • Slaty Skimmer – “The legs are black with brown only at their extreme bases.”

Digital Dragonflies: presenting high-resolution digital scans of living dragonflies.

  • Genus Libellula | Libellula vibrans | Great Blue Skimmer | female | top view
  • Genus Libellula | Libellula vibrans | Great Blue Skimmer | female | side view

Digital scans by G & J Strickland:

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Senior sex

April 11, 2015

The following photo shows a couple of high-mileage Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula vibrans) still getting it done! The mating pair is “in wheel“: the male is on top; the female is on the bottom.

Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies (mating pair, in wheel)

04 SEP 2014 | HMP | Great Blue Skimmer (mating pair)

The final photo shows the female resting immediately after copulation.

Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (old female, resting after copulation)

04 SEP 2014 | HMP | Great Blue Skimmer (mature female)

The mature mating pair was spotted at a vernal pool in the forest at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP). Contrast the appearance of the septuagenarian couple (figuratively speaking) with younger mating pairs, listed in reverse chronological order.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly terminal appendages

April 3, 2015

I spotted an unknown dragonfly on 17 May 2012 and sent the following photo (without annotation) to Matt Ryan for his take on the identity of the dragonfly. Matt and I had taken the same introductory class on dragonflies during Summer 2011 at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP). Both of us were eager to learn more about odonates in order to move to the next level of dragonfly spotting.

Matt and I narrowed the field of possible identities to either Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans) or Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta), but we weren’t certain of its gender or age. As I recall, Matt was the first one to mention terminal appendages — a useful field marker that turned out to be one of the key characteristics that enabled us to correctly identify the specimen as an immature male Great Blue Skimmer.

And so it began — my interest in learning more about dragonfly terminal appendages led to lots of new discoveries and remains one of the go-to field markers I look for when identifying dragonflies.

Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (immature male)

17 MAY 2012 | HMP | Great Blue Skimmer (immature male)

Immature males appear similar to immature females of the same species (and some mature females) for many types of dragonflies that display sexual dimorphism. This is true for many members of the Skimmer Family of dragonflies, such as Great Blue Skimmer. Terminal appendages may be used to differentiate gender for many species of dragonflies.

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16 AUG 2013 | ABWR | Great Blue Skimmer (mature male)

Male dragonflies have three terminal appendages, collectively called “claspers,” that are used to grab and hold female dragonflies during mating: an upper pair of cerci (“superior appendages”) and a lower unpaired epiproct (“inferior appendage”).

Female dragonflies have a pair of cerci (superior appendages) that have little or no function.

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) spotted at Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

12 SEP 2012 | ABWR | Great Blue Skimmer (mature female)

Look closely at the full-size version of the preceding image. Female Great Blue Skimmers have two flanges beneath their eighth abdominal segment (S8) that are used to scoop water when laying eggs (oviposition), hence the family name “Skimmer.” Remember that all dragonflies and damselflies have a 10-segmented abdomen, numbered from front to back.

Related Resources: Odonate Terminal Appendages.

Editor’s Note: Matt Ryan went on to become a professional naturalist who works at Huntley Meadows Park. Matt is an excellent all-around naturalist; botany is Matt’s area of specialization.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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