August 14, 2009
Here in Sacramento, Ca., for years in the summer I’ve seen dragonflies perch on the tip of the radio antennae of my car, presumably looking for prey.
For the past ten years I’ve seen black and gray ones, but this year it seems to be all reddish orange ones like the pictures I sent. I don’t know if this is merely a coincidence, but all the years I saw the black and gray ones, I had a black car. This year I bought a fire engine red car and suddenly all the dragonflies are red ones. Are they attracted to a background they can fade into? It appears that these red dragonflies are either neon skimmers or flame skimmers. I can’t tell the difference really. Sacramento fits within both of their ranges. These pictures might be of two separate insects. The “dragonflytop” picture was taken a week before the other two.
Dear Jammin Bill,
First we have to apologize for not responding to your original email, but as we stated in a personal email, we haven’t the time or the staff to even read all of the mail we receive, often over 100 emails a day during the summer. We choose randomly, often based on a subject line. Often, like you, people will write back to us and tell us that the sent photos a week or more earlier, and going back through old mail is nearly an impossibility. All resubmissions to our site should contain attached photos once again. We realize that this is an inconvenience, but it is the only way we are able to smoothly make postings. If we have to hunt through multiple emails to get all necessary information, we just abandon the effort and move on to an easier identification request.
In our opinion, you have submitted three images of a male Flame Skimmer, Libellula saturata, based on the distribution of the amber coloring on the wings. BugGuide has a fine explanation on telling the difference between Flame Skimmers and the Neon Skimmer, , complete with comparison photographs. BugGuide states: “See species description on the U. of Texas website odonatacentral. L. saturata – Flame skimmer: males bright orange with amber color in the wings covering half the width of the wing, out to the nodus, and all the way to the rear of the hind wing. Females paler but still with some amber at least on the leading edge of the wing. … L. croceipennis – Neon Skimmer: males bright red with amber wing color only covering a quarter of the wing, halfway to the nodus, and not all the way back to the rear edge of the hind wing. Female paler and with essentially clear wings.“ We don’t know what to say about your observation regarding the color of the dragonflies that perch on your antenna, and the color of the cars. Dragonflies can be very territorial, and it is quite probable that the same individual returns to the same perch on a daily basis. That would support the theory that all your photos are of the same individual since the period of time that elapsed between the documentation is within the lifespan of an individual dragonfly. Perhaps in previous years, more drably colored females of the species perched on your black car. Without a photo though, it would be difficult to hazard a guess as to the species. Finally, we believe Dragonflies see in color, and your question about the color of the surroundings might have some validity.