Female Common Whitetail

Dragonflies begin life as a tiny egg scattered on the surface of the water, buried in the mud of a stream bottom or inserted into vegetation floating on or overhanging water. Within several weeks or after overwintering, nymphs (the larval stage) hatch from the eggs. Depending on the species, the nymphs grow and moult in the water about twelve times over a period of a month to several years. Eventually the nymph crawls out of the water, its skin cracks and an adult dragonfly emerges from the old shell. The adult only lives for a few weeks during which time it matures, mates and begins the cycle again.

This is a female common whitetail (Plathemis lydia). Whitetails are considered  medium-sized dragonflies The female of this species is very similar to a female twelve-spotted skimmer (Libellula pulchella). The four wings each have three dark spots including one at the tip – twelve spots in all.  The female whitetail also has a row of dashes along the sides of the abdomen, while the female skimmer has a continuous yellow stripe along the side of its body. Under a bright light the yellow dashes can be seen in this specimen, however it has faded over time.

This specimen was lying on our porch steps (Modoc County CA) – already dead. Common whitetails are found around marshes, streams and rivers. Even though the nearest water (a pond) is about a half-mile away from our house, dragonflies will fly for miles to feed. They are most welcome in our yard since mosquitos are a major part of their diet.

I love the veination in the wings. Although the wings look delicate, they are not fragile. One can gently pinch the wings together over the back to examine the dragonfly without harming the insect.


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