Common Whitetail

For several weeks common whitetails (Plathemis lydia or Libellula lydia) have flitted around our yard (Lookout CA). No matter how hard I tried, I just could not get a common whitetail picture. They were simply too elusive. (I do not catch insects in order to photograph them.) Finally one perched on the ground and did not move, permitting me to take a whole series of pictures. It was so easy to get these photos – almost no fun after stalking common whitetails for so long. After his photo shoot this dragonfly happily flew off.

I listed two scientific names for the common whitetail. For years those responsible for such decisions have argued if the common whitetail should be included in the Libellula genus or deserved its own genus designation, Plathemis. Recent molecular studies suggest that the separation may be accurate. However, both scientific names are found in the current literature.

The common whitetail is a medium-sized “skimmer” dragonfly. The mature male has a broad, pruinose abdomen. Pruinose means the dragonfly has a powdery covering that develops as the insect matures turning it white. A dark broad band cuts across the clear wing about a third of the way from the tip and there is a small black area at the base (near the body). The brown eyes nearly touch. When perching on low-lying stems or on the ground the common whitetail holds its wings horizontally.

Female common whitetails look different from the males and closely resemble the female twelve-spotted skimmer. Perhaps a female whitetail will cooperate and allow herself to be photographed for a companion post.

Common whitetails live near ponds, marshes and slow-moving streams, places with muddy bottoms. They can be found throughout the United States except in the desert Southwest. Males establish and defend a territory along the water’s edge. Once mated the female lays (oviposits) her eggs in the water near the shore by dipping her abdomen into the water several times while “skimming” over the surface.

Common whitetail dragonflies hawk (catch prey in flight like a hawk) and consume most any soft-bodied insect, including mosquitos, flies, midges, and small butterflies, among others.

This striking dragonfly is also commonly called a long tail skimmer.

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4 Responses to Common Whitetail

  1. Mike Powell says:

    Great shots of a beauty. I’ve had trouble with most of the shots I’ve attempted because the white of the body caused my camera to overexpose the image.

    • gingkochris says:

      Thanks, Mike! The whitetail was in shadow so that helped keep the abdomen from washing out. I too, even with manual operation, have difficulty with white objects (think pelican, egret, etc.) in bright sunlight. I would be forever grateful for the secret to correcting that problem. I have probably tried every combination of f stop and shutter speed with all the filters I own (not many) and still cannot get it correct.

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