Common Whitetail: All You Need to Know in a Quick Guide

The Common Whitetail is an intriguing species of dragonfly found across much of North America, known for its unique appearance and habit. These fascinating creatures possess distinct short, stout abdomens, making them easily identifiable from other similar species. Both male and female Common Whitetails have different physical features, adding to their appeal among dragonfly enthusiasts.

Mature male Common Whitetails can be recognized by their chalky bluish-white abdomen and a single broad dark band per wing. In contrast, females display a brown body adorned with a row of pale, yellowish triangular marks on each side. Understanding the appearance of these captivating dragonflies can greatly enhance the experience of observing them in their natural habitats.

In addition to their striking physical features, the Common Whitetail’s life cycle, behavior patterns, and preferred environments contribute to our fascination with these insects. As you continue reading, you’ll learn more about their interesting biological traits and find ways to experience the wonder of this captivating species.

Common Whitetail: Physical Characteristics

Fur and Reddish-Brown Coat

  • Whitetail deer have a coat that changes colors depending on the season
  • Grayish-brown in winter, reddish-brown in summer

White Tail

  • Named after the underside of their tail, which is covered in white hair
  • Often visible when they run, as they hold their tail erect

Antlers

Vision

  • Whitetail deer have excellent vision
  • Detects movement easily, which helps them avoid predators

Hearing

  • Also known for exceptional hearing
  • Advantages include better predator detection and communication with other deer

Comparison Table

Feature Detail
Fur Changes colors seasonally
Tail White underside
Antlers Males have main beams and 3-5 tines
Vision Excellent, great at detecting movement
Hearing Outstanding, helps with predator detection and communication

In conclusion, white tailed deer are known for their reddish-brown coat, white tail, antlers, excellent vision, and remarkable hearing.

Habitat and Food Sources

Vegetation and Diet

The Common Whitetail is a widespread species of dragonflies found across much of North America. Their diet mainly consists of:

  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Alfalfa
  • Acorns
  • Apples

Forests and Fields

The habitat of Common Whitetail dragonflies includes a variety of areas, such as:

  • Forests
  • Fields

For example, woodlands provide plenty of vegetation and food sources, while fields serve as a place to find fruits, nuts, and other food items.

Rivers and Water Sources

Water sources are essential for the survival of Common Whitetails. They frequent:

  • Rivers
  • Streams
  • Ponds

In summary, the habitat of Common Whitetail dragonflies covers a diverse range of environments, including forests, fields, and water sources. Their diet consists mainly of fruits, nuts, and plants like alfalfa and acorns.

Behavior and Reproduction

Rut and Breeding Season

  • The rut occurs during fall, when male whitetails, or bucks, become especially active seeking females
  • Dominance disputes between bucks are common during this time

Bucks might compete through displays of aggression, such as:

  • Vocalizations
  • Antler sparring
  • Chasing

Estrus and Mating

  • Does, or female deer, enter estrus during breeding season
  • Bucks will pursue estrous does to mate

A doe’s estrus cycle typically lasts for 24 hours, with peak receptivity occurring around 12 hours in.

Fawns and Twins

  • Most whitetail does give birth to single fawns
  • However, twins occur in approximately 25%-50% of births

These fawn stats vary depending on factors like habitat quality and regional deer population density.

Nocturnal Habits

Whitetail deer are primarily nocturnal, meaning:

  • They are more active during the night
  • They tend to rest during the day

Whitetail deer prefer nighttime for:

  • Foraging
  • Mating
  • Establishing dominance

Pros and cons of whitetail deer nocturnal behavior:

Pros Cons
Less likely to encounter predators Nighttime behaviors make it harder to study and observe whitetail deer
Access to more food resources during the night Increased risk of deer-vehicle collisions on roads at night

Overall, understanding the behavior and reproductive traits of the common whitetail deer can provide valuable insights into their ecology and management.

Hunting Common Whitetail

Scouting and Stand Location

When hunting common whitetail deer, scouting is essential. Use binoculars to observe areas with abundant food sources and water. Look for signs of deer activity: tracks, droppings, and rubs.

Select a stand location near these areas, ensuring you have proper concealment. Use a tree stand or ladder stand to maintain a good vantage point.

Deer Activity: Travel Routes and Corridors

Understanding deer activity is crucial to a successful hunting trip. Whitetail deer typically move between bedding areas, food sources, and water. Establishing the common travel routes and corridors can improve hunter success.

  • Travel Routes: worn down paths in vegetation
  • Travel Corridors: narrow strips of cover connecting larger areas

Take note of the terrain and any natural barriers that may funnel deer movement.

Hunting Strategies and Techniques

Common whitetail hunting techniques include:

  • Rifle and bow hunting: Both provide challenges and require different skill sets. Rifles offer longer range, while bows offer a more intimate experience.
Rifle Hunting Bow Hunting
Longer ranges Shorter ranges
Louder shots Quiet shots
Easier to learn More skill involved
  • Decoys: Placing realistic decoys can attract deer to your location.

  • Calls: Simulate deer vocalizations to lure them in.

  • Camo: Effective camouflage helps hunters blend into their surroundings.

  • Scents and Scent Control: Utilize deer scents to attract or mask human scents.

Hunting Regulations and Safety

Always be informed about local hunting regulations, such as season dates and bag limits. Obtain proper licenses and permits.

Prioritize safety when hunting. Wear bright clothing like orange vests and hats to be visible to other hunters. Also, practice firearm safety to prevent accidents.

Deer Management and Conservation

Genetics, Nutrition, and Population

White-tailed deer management involves understanding factors like genetics, nutrition, and population. Genetics play a role in the overall health, antler size, and adaptability of a deer population. Nutrition is essential for deer growth and reproduction. Managing populations helps maintain ecological balance, preventing overpopulation or underpopulation.

Example:

  • Population control methods: hunting seasons, predator reintroduction

Habitats, Bedding Areas, and Water

Deer habitat management includes the inventory of vegetation types to create favorable environments for deer. Bedding areas provide shelter and safety, while water sources are vital for survival.

Examples:

  • Managing grasslands, forests, and wetlands
  • Retaining natural cover
  • Protecting water sources
Habitat Element Importance
Bedding Area Shelter
Water Source Drinking
Food Source Sustenance

Ground Blind and Equipment

Using a ground blind and the right equipment is crucial for successful deer management. Ground blinds help disguise hunters and provide concealment. Equipment can include trail cameras, food plot tools, and deer feeders.

Example:

  • Trail camera: monitors deer movement, helps estimate population size

Pros and Cons:

  • Ground blind:

    • Pros: Concealment, scent control
    • Cons: Limited visibility, may restrict movement
  • Equipment:

    • Pros: Improved hunting opportunities, advanced monitoring
    • Cons: Cost, maintenance

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Common Whitetail Female

 

Female Common Whitetail
I checked out this dragonfly on your site and BugGuide. I believe it is a female Common Whitetail Plathemis lydia. Thought you might like to add it to the juvenile male you have posted already.
Photo Lady

Hi there Photo Lady,
Your photo is quite wonderful. Thank you so much for allowing us to post this female Common Whitetail.

Letter 2 – Twelve Spot Skimmer, not Common Whitetail: Immature Male

 

a flying bug of some kind
Location: tacoma, washington, USA
January 21, 2011 6:06 pm
hi bugman, i have a photo of a bug that i have tentatively identified as Plathemis lydia or possibly Libellula pulchella but i’m not sure. i see a lot of blue-eyed darners around, but this is a new one that i’ve not seen before.
Signature: przxqgl

Twelve Spot Skimmer

Dear przxqgl,
We agree with your first choice,
Plathemis lydia, the Common Whitetail.  According to BugGuide:  “Males and females have different wing patterns.  Immature males have the same body pattern as females but the same wing pattern as mature males.  ‘tween’ males have abdomens that are beginning to turn blue, but the adolescent body pattern still shows through the blue.  Mature males have a short, stout abdomen that is completely chalky blue-white covering the adolescent pattern.  Females have a short, stout abdomen with several oblique dorsolateral white or pale yellow markings against a brown ground color; each wing has three black evenly-spaced blotches.”  Because of the pictures and descriptions on BugGuide, we would say you have photographed an immature male Common Whitetail.

Correction from a Comment
This is a mature male Libellula pulchella. Twelve-spotted skimmer. 3 dark spots with 2 white patches between is a positive id.

Letter 3 – Common Whitetail: Teneral Male

 

Dragonfly – Whitetail?
August 1, 2009
These big guys follow my mom around while she gardens all the time in the summer, I think mostly because she uproots the rocks around the garden’s edge and exposes a ton of little insects that all flee. This time she asked me to follow her around as well to get a good shot of one. I managed to catch this girl (I think) as she perched on top of one of the hanging flower pots that was taken down to be watered, though she was really flighty for almost 20 minutes before she surrendered. The picture turned out well enough to come try and find a match, and after some browsing on your site, I think this one is a common whitetail female. They are so pretty and they usually have no shame when it comes to saying hi to us.
Jere
South-east MI

Common Whitetail:  Teneral Male
Common Whitetail: Teneral Male

Hi Jere,
You are correct about this being a Common Whitetail, Plathemis lydia, but it is not a female.  It is a teneral male.  According to the University of Florida Dragonflies and Damselflies web page: “When naiads are ready for their final molt they leave the water and crawl onto the bank or vegetation where they will molt into adults. Much like a caterpillar emerging from a chrysalis, they will need to pump up their wings and allow their bodies to harden before they can be effective fliers. A newly emerged odonate is teneral (soft). A teneral dragonfly has glossy wings and the colors on the body are often pale. Several days after emmerging hardened completely and will have taken on the colors of an adult dragonfly.
According to BugGuide on the Common Whitetail information page:  “Immature males have the same body pattern as females but the same wing pattern as mature males.” BugGuide has excellent photos illustrating the differences between male and female Common Whitetails.  Your letter contains some fascinating dragonfly behavior observations.

Letter 4 – Female Common Whitetail

 

Subject: Type of Dragonfly?
Location: East Texas
August 12, 2016 9:41 am
Good morning!
I was wondering if you could help me identify which type of dragonfly this is?!
Signature: Katherine Harper

Female Common Whitetail
Female Common Whitetail

Dear Katherine,
We are relatively certain this is a female Common Whitetail,
Plathemis lydia, based on this BugGuide image.  If you look closely at the spotting on the abdomen, you will see it is different than the pattern on the female Twelve Spot Skimmer, Libellula pulchella, also pictured on BugGuide.  Both species have a similar wing spot pattern.

Letter 5 – Female Common Whitetail

 

Subject: Dragonfly-Skimmer
Location: Montreal Canada
July 30, 2016 5:48 pm
Is this a female twelve-spotted skimmer? If not, then what? Thanks
Signature: Pauline

Female Common Whitetail
Female Common Whitetail

Dear Pauline,
We apologize for the delay in responding, but we really do have a tiny staff that cannot respond to all of our summer identification requests.  We just posted a new image of a female Common Whitetail, and we went back through our archives of unanswered mail to locate your request.  We believe you also have submitted an image of a female Common Whitetail,
Plathemis lydia, and you can compare your image to this BugGuide image.  According to BugGuide:  “Females are often confused with the Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella) but notice the solid stripe down the side of the longer, more slender abdomen here in L. pulchella.

Thank you! I believe that is correct and appreciate your efforts.

Letter 6 – Male Common Whitetail

 

Zebra Dragonfly/Moth?
Location: Southwestern Pennsylvania (near Monongahela river)
August 8, 2011 4:30 pm
Found this nifty looking bug outside of my house – he was already comatose when I came upon him, so i put a quarter by him for size comparison and took some pictures… Thanks!
Signature: KatieC

Male Common Whitetail

Hi Katie,
Your Dragonfly is a male Common Whitetail.  Like many Dragonflies, this is a sexually dimorphic species because only the males have the white abdomen, and the wing patterns of the sexes are also different.

Letter 7 – Male Common Whitetails

 

Subject: Libelludae– Common Whitetail–Plathemis lydia
Location: Niagara Region, Ontario
July 10, 2012 4:00 pm
Hello, Bugman
A while back I sent you a dragonfly for id. I just wanted to let you know that I was finally able to id it myself. I came across the id on your site while searching for what I thought was a completely different dragonfly. I have attached both the original picture I sent you (the female) with the second picture (male). The photos were taken at different locations several weeks apart, so alas, no buglove going on here!
The second photo is not as great as I didn’t have my zoom lens and wasn’t able to get very close.
Signature: Alison

Common Whitetail:  Immature Male

Hi Alison,
We agree with you having correctly identified these Dragonflies as Common Whitetails, but we disagree with your assessment that one is a female and the other a male.  We believe both examples are males of the species.  According to BugGuide:  “Males and females have different wing patterns … Immature males have the same body pattern as females but the same wing pattern as mature males”.  Both your individuals have the wing patterns of males.  Your photos are an excellent addition to our archive.

Common Whitetail: Mature Male

Thank you for the correction! I missed that detail. I’m only starting to id dragonflies and they prove far more difficult than butterflies.

We always have trouble with Dragonflies and we were thrilled to see an identification in your subject line.

 

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Common Whitetail Female

 

Female Common Whitetail
I checked out this dragonfly on your site and BugGuide. I believe it is a female Common Whitetail Plathemis lydia. Thought you might like to add it to the juvenile male you have posted already.
Photo Lady

Hi there Photo Lady,
Your photo is quite wonderful. Thank you so much for allowing us to post this female Common Whitetail.

Letter 2 – Twelve Spot Skimmer, not Common Whitetail: Immature Male

 

a flying bug of some kind
Location: tacoma, washington, USA
January 21, 2011 6:06 pm
hi bugman, i have a photo of a bug that i have tentatively identified as Plathemis lydia or possibly Libellula pulchella but i’m not sure. i see a lot of blue-eyed darners around, but this is a new one that i’ve not seen before.
Signature: przxqgl

Twelve Spot Skimmer

Dear przxqgl,
We agree with your first choice,
Plathemis lydia, the Common Whitetail.  According to BugGuide:  “Males and females have different wing patterns.  Immature males have the same body pattern as females but the same wing pattern as mature males.  ‘tween’ males have abdomens that are beginning to turn blue, but the adolescent body pattern still shows through the blue.  Mature males have a short, stout abdomen that is completely chalky blue-white covering the adolescent pattern.  Females have a short, stout abdomen with several oblique dorsolateral white or pale yellow markings against a brown ground color; each wing has three black evenly-spaced blotches.”  Because of the pictures and descriptions on BugGuide, we would say you have photographed an immature male Common Whitetail.

Correction from a Comment
This is a mature male Libellula pulchella. Twelve-spotted skimmer. 3 dark spots with 2 white patches between is a positive id.

Letter 3 – Common Whitetail: Teneral Male

 

Dragonfly – Whitetail?
August 1, 2009
These big guys follow my mom around while she gardens all the time in the summer, I think mostly because she uproots the rocks around the garden’s edge and exposes a ton of little insects that all flee. This time she asked me to follow her around as well to get a good shot of one. I managed to catch this girl (I think) as she perched on top of one of the hanging flower pots that was taken down to be watered, though she was really flighty for almost 20 minutes before she surrendered. The picture turned out well enough to come try and find a match, and after some browsing on your site, I think this one is a common whitetail female. They are so pretty and they usually have no shame when it comes to saying hi to us.
Jere
South-east MI

Common Whitetail:  Teneral Male
Common Whitetail: Teneral Male

Hi Jere,
You are correct about this being a Common Whitetail, Plathemis lydia, but it is not a female.  It is a teneral male.  According to the University of Florida Dragonflies and Damselflies web page: “When naiads are ready for their final molt they leave the water and crawl onto the bank or vegetation where they will molt into adults. Much like a caterpillar emerging from a chrysalis, they will need to pump up their wings and allow their bodies to harden before they can be effective fliers. A newly emerged odonate is teneral (soft). A teneral dragonfly has glossy wings and the colors on the body are often pale. Several days after emmerging hardened completely and will have taken on the colors of an adult dragonfly.
According to BugGuide on the Common Whitetail information page:  “Immature males have the same body pattern as females but the same wing pattern as mature males.” BugGuide has excellent photos illustrating the differences between male and female Common Whitetails.  Your letter contains some fascinating dragonfly behavior observations.

Letter 4 – Female Common Whitetail

 

Subject: Type of Dragonfly?
Location: East Texas
August 12, 2016 9:41 am
Good morning!
I was wondering if you could help me identify which type of dragonfly this is?!
Signature: Katherine Harper

Female Common Whitetail
Female Common Whitetail

Dear Katherine,
We are relatively certain this is a female Common Whitetail,
Plathemis lydia, based on this BugGuide image.  If you look closely at the spotting on the abdomen, you will see it is different than the pattern on the female Twelve Spot Skimmer, Libellula pulchella, also pictured on BugGuide.  Both species have a similar wing spot pattern.

Letter 5 – Female Common Whitetail

 

Subject: Dragonfly-Skimmer
Location: Montreal Canada
July 30, 2016 5:48 pm
Is this a female twelve-spotted skimmer? If not, then what? Thanks
Signature: Pauline

Female Common Whitetail
Female Common Whitetail

Dear Pauline,
We apologize for the delay in responding, but we really do have a tiny staff that cannot respond to all of our summer identification requests.  We just posted a new image of a female Common Whitetail, and we went back through our archives of unanswered mail to locate your request.  We believe you also have submitted an image of a female Common Whitetail,
Plathemis lydia, and you can compare your image to this BugGuide image.  According to BugGuide:  “Females are often confused with the Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella) but notice the solid stripe down the side of the longer, more slender abdomen here in L. pulchella.

Thank you! I believe that is correct and appreciate your efforts.

Letter 6 – Male Common Whitetail

 

Zebra Dragonfly/Moth?
Location: Southwestern Pennsylvania (near Monongahela river)
August 8, 2011 4:30 pm
Found this nifty looking bug outside of my house – he was already comatose when I came upon him, so i put a quarter by him for size comparison and took some pictures… Thanks!
Signature: KatieC

Male Common Whitetail

Hi Katie,
Your Dragonfly is a male Common Whitetail.  Like many Dragonflies, this is a sexually dimorphic species because only the males have the white abdomen, and the wing patterns of the sexes are also different.

Letter 7 – Male Common Whitetails

 

Subject: Libelludae– Common Whitetail–Plathemis lydia
Location: Niagara Region, Ontario
July 10, 2012 4:00 pm
Hello, Bugman
A while back I sent you a dragonfly for id. I just wanted to let you know that I was finally able to id it myself. I came across the id on your site while searching for what I thought was a completely different dragonfly. I have attached both the original picture I sent you (the female) with the second picture (male). The photos were taken at different locations several weeks apart, so alas, no buglove going on here!
The second photo is not as great as I didn’t have my zoom lens and wasn’t able to get very close.
Signature: Alison

Common Whitetail:  Immature Male

Hi Alison,
We agree with you having correctly identified these Dragonflies as Common Whitetails, but we disagree with your assessment that one is a female and the other a male.  We believe both examples are males of the species.  According to BugGuide:  “Males and females have different wing patterns … Immature males have the same body pattern as females but the same wing pattern as mature males”.  Both your individuals have the wing patterns of males.  Your photos are an excellent addition to our archive.

Common Whitetail: Mature Male

Thank you for the correction! I missed that detail. I’m only starting to id dragonflies and they prove far more difficult than butterflies.

We always have trouble with Dragonflies and we were thrilled to see an identification in your subject line.

 

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

2 thoughts on “Common Whitetail: All You Need to Know in a Quick Guide”

  1. This is a mature male Libellula pulchella. Twelve-spotted skimmer. 3 dark spots with 2 white patches between is a positive id.

    Reply

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