Widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa)

Widow skimmer female
IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern LEAST

Top facts

  • The widow skimmer is a large dragonfly with a wingspan of up to 8 cm.
  • The unique wings of the widow skimmer are dark at the base, white in the middle and transparent at the tips, creating a stripe-like pattern.
  • The widow skimmer can be found up to elevations of 1,700 m.
  • Territories are often defended by groups of widow skimmers.
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Widow skimmer fact file

Widow skimmer description

GenusLibellula (1)

The widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) is a large, attractive dragonfly with uniquely patterned wings, which are dark at the base, white in the middle and glass-like on the tips (3) (4). The abdomen and the front of the thorax of the male are white and have a powder-like appearance (3) (5), whereas the rest of the thorax, eyes and face are dark brown (5).

The female and juvenile widow skimmer have a dark body with a yellow stripe which extends from the upperside of the thorax to the base of the abdomen, where it splits into two lines (3). The female has a light brown face, brown eyes (5) and a similar wing pattern to the male, although the wings of the female have a dark smudge at the tip (2) (5) and the base of the wing is paler (5)

Body length: 4 - 5 cm (2)
Wingspan: 7.5 - 8 cm (3)

Widow skimmer biology

The flight season of the widow skimmer, when the adults are active, can vary between April and November throughout its range (5).

The male widow skimmer defends a large territory, regularly partaking in territorial disputes and chases with other males, as well as with other dragonfly species. Occasionally, a group of males will defend a territory, which has one dominant male who is most likely to mate (5).

Copulation lasts for between 10 and 20 seconds and occurs both in flight and at rest, and is followed the female depositing the fertilised eggs into water (5). While the female deposits the eggs, the male will occasionally guard the female to guarantee the eggs are fertilised using his sperm, by ensuring no further copulation occurs with other males (5) (7). Widow skimmer larvae are aquatic and pass through a number of developmental stages until they finally crawl to the shore and break open the skin, revealing a fully-formed adult (2) (7).

The diet of the adult widow skimmer consists of small flying insects, which are hunted from an elevated perch (2). All dragonfly larvae are voracious predators and catch their prey using specialised mouthparts, which extend forward rapidly, grip their aquatic prey and pull it into the larva’s mouth (8)


Widow skimmer range

The widow skimmer is a widespread species which is found throughout most of the United States and Canada (1) (4) (6), as well as in Mexico (5)


Widow skimmer habitat

The widow skimmer commonly inhabits areas surrounding ponds, marshes, lakes, pools and slow streams (1) (3) (4) (5). Areas with plentiful vegetation are preferred, with the vegetation used as a perch. This species is also common far away from water in open country, meadows and roadsides (5) (6). The widow skimmer is usually rare in montane habitats, although in certain areas it can be found up to elevations of 1,700 metres (3).


Widow skimmer status

The widow skimmer is classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Widow skimmer threats

There are not known to be any major threats to the widow skimmer at this time.


Widow skimmer conservation

There are not known to be any specific conservation measures currently in place for this common and widespread dragonfly. The widow skimmer occurs in many protected areas and its population appears to be increasing (1).


Find out more

Find out more about dragonfly and damselfly conservation:



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In arthropods (crustaceans, insects and arachnids) the abdomen is the hind region of the body, which is usually segmented to a degree (but not visibly in most spiders). In crustacea (such as crabs), some of the limbs attach to the abdomen; in insects the limbs are attached to the thorax (the part of the body nearest to the head) and not the abdomen.
The fusion of gametes (male and female reproductive cells) to produce an embryo, which grows into a new individual.
Immature stage in an animal’s lifecycle, after it hatches from an egg and before it changes into the adult form. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but are usually unable to reproduce.
Of mountains, or growing in mountains.
Describes an animal, a pair of animals or a group that occupies and defends an area.
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a group.
Part of the body located between the head and the abdomen in animals. In insects, the three segments between the head and the abdomen, each of which has a pair of legs. In vertebrates the thorax contains the heart and the lungs.


  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2012)
  2. Cartron, J.E., Lightfoor, D.C., Mygatt, J.E., Brantley, S.L. and Lowrey, T.K. (2008) A Field Guide to the Plants and Animals of the Middle Rio Grande Bosque. University of New Mexico Press, New Mexico.
  3. Manolis, T. (2003) Dragonflies and Damselflies of California. University of California Press, California.
  4. McCafferty, W.P. (1981) Aquatic Entomology:The Fishermen’s and Ecologists’ Illustrated Guide to Insects and Their Relatives. Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Massachusetts.
  5. Paulson, D.R. (2009) Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
  6. Eaton, E.R. and Kaufman, K. (2007) Field Guide to Insects of North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston.
  7. Taber, S.W. and Fleenor, S.B. (2005) Invertebrates of Central Texas Wetlands. Texas Tech University Press, Texas.
  8. O’Toole, C. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Insects and Their Allies. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Image credit

Widow skimmer female  
Widow skimmer female

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