Do Common Whitetail Dragonflies Bite? Debunking the Myth

Common whitetail dragonflies are fascinating insects known for their striking appearance and unique behavior. These dragonflies are prevalent in various habitats such as ponds, lakes, and slow-moving streams, with males being easily recognized by their bright white abdomen and black banded wings, while the females sport a brown body with pale yellowish triangular marks on each side source. As people frequently encounter these insects, a common question that arises is whether common whitetail dragonflies bite.

Dragonfly adults, including the common whitetail, are generalist predators that feed on day-flying insects like flies with their bristly legs. They are agile and fast fliers source. While their nymph stage of the life cycle keeps them confined to the underwater habitats, the adult stage is when they are most likely to come into contact with humans. Although dragonflies possess mandibles and can bite, they rarely do so when handling them carefully, and the bite is not considered harmful to humans.

Do Common Whitetail Dragonflies Bite

Biting vs. Stinging

  • Dragonflies are known for their aerial acrobatics and ability to catch prey with ease.
  • They do not have stingers, so they cannot sting like some other insects (e.g., bees and wasps).

In comparison:

Dragonflies Bees/Wasps
Bite Yes (rare) No
Sting No Yes

Mandibles and Teeth

  • Dragonflies have powerful mandibles with small teeth-like structures.
  • These mandibles are primarily used for catching and consuming prey, not for biting humans or other animals.

Examples of common prey for dragonflies:

  • Mosquitoes
  • Flies
  • Moths
  • Bees

When it comes to Common Whitetail Dragonflies and biting:

  • They may nip in self-defense if they feel threatened or are handled inappropriately.
  • Most instances of people being bitten by dragonflies are accidental or due to improper handling.

However, it’s crucial to remember that:

  • Dragonflies are not aggressive towards humans.
  • Bites from dragonflies are rare and typically pose no danger or harm.
  • They are a valuable part of the ecosystem and help control pest populations.

In summary, while Common Whitetail Dragonflies do possess mandibles and teeth-like structures capable of biting, they are not aggressive towards humans, and bites are a rare occurrence.

Understanding Whitetail Dragonfly Behavior

Mating and Aggression

Common Whitetail Dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) are fascinating creatures found in a variety of habitats like streams, wetlands, and lakes. During mating, males display territorial behavior where aggression may appear:

  • Males often pursue females
  • They skirmish with rival males

Despite aggressive tendencies during mating, whitetail dragonflies are not aggressive towards humans.

Self-Defense Mechanisms

When threatened or disturbed, whitetail dragonflies resort to self-defense mechanisms. For instance:

  • They can flee quickly
  • They use their wings to create a strong flight pattern
  • They blend into their surroundings thanks to their natural camouflage

Comparison Table

Behavior Mating & Aggression Self-Defense
Aggressiveness Aggressive towards other dragonflies Not aggressive towards humans
Common cause of behavior Protecting territory & attracting mates Responding to perceived threats or disturbances
Examples Chasing females, skirmishes with rivals Fleeing, strong flight patterns, camouflage

As you can see, Common Whitetail Dragonflies are fascinating creatures that show complex behavior while mating and when feeling threatened. Despite their aggressive mating behavior, they pose no threat to humans and exhibit remarkable self-defense mechanisms.

The Role of Dragonflies in the Ecosystem

Predator-Prey Relationship

Dragonflies play a critical role in the ecosystem as predators of a variety of flying insects, including mosquitoes. Their adults and aquatic larvae (nymphs) capture and consume significant numbers of prey, helping to maintain a balanced environment in ponds and streams.

Pros of Dragonflies as Predators:

  • Help control mosquito population
  • Contribute to the balance of freshwater ecosystems
  • Aid in preventing the spread of certain diseases transmitted by insects

Cons of Dragonflies as Predators:

  • Potentially reduce the population of beneficial insects

Impact on Mosquitoes and Disease

Through their voracious feeding habits, dragonflies effectively control mosquito populations. Fewer mosquitoes result in a reduced chance of humans and animals contracting diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, such as malaria, West Nile virus, dengue fever, and Zika virus. Odonatists and researchers study dragonflies to better understand their ecological role and improve our applications of their predatory abilities.

Comparison of Dragonflies and Mosquitoes:

Feature Dragonflies Mosquitoes
Habitat Ponds, streams, marshes, and other freshwater environments Breeding grounds include standing water sources
Life Cycle Aquatic nymphs, followed by winged adult stage Aquatic larvae, pupae, and winged adults
Flying Abilities Fast and agile Slower and less agile
Impact on Humans Harmless and non-poisonous Can transmit diseases such as malaria and West Nile virus
Size Larger, up to 3 inches in length Smaller, typically less than an inch in length

Characteristics of Dragonflies:

  • Brightly colored wings and body
  • Strong fliers, easily managing long distances
  • Harmless to humans: do not sting, bite, or transmit diseases
  • Live in various regions across North America

In conclusion, dragonflies are valuable contributors to ecosystems as predators. Not only do they help control mosquito populations but also they mitigate the spread of diseases carried by mosquitoes. Researchers and Odonatists continue to study the vital role these insects play in maintaining balanced and healthy ecosystems.

Anatomy and Life Cycle of Common Whitetail Dragonflies

Physical Characteristics

Common Whitetail dragonflies are colorful insects with different appearances for males and females. Males have a chalky bluish-white abdomen and one broad dark band per wing, while females have a brown body and a row of pale yellowish triangular marks on each side.

Wingspan: The wingspan of Common Whitetail dragonflies averages around 2.4 inches (60mm).

Vision: These dragonflies possess exceptional vision, which aids in their hunting prowess.

Eggs

Common Whitetail dragonflies lay eggs in the water:

  • Female uses an egg-laying tube (ovipositor) for depositing eggs.
  • Eggs are usually laid on aquatic vegetation.

Larvae

The larval stage of Common Whitetail dragonflies is aquatic and has the following features:

  • Carnivorous appetite: They consume small aquatic organisms.
  • Gills: Larvae utilize gills for respiration.

Nymphs

Nymphs are the final stage before transitioning into adult dragonflies. Some characteristics include:

  • Shed: They shed their exoskeleton multiple times during development.
  • Temperature: Nymphs are sensitive to temperature changes, which can affect their development rate.

In both the larval and nymph stages, Whitetail dragonflies can bite when threatened; however, their bites are not dangerous to humans. They are considered beneficial predators with a carnivorous appetite, helping control mosquito and other insect populations.

Interesting Facts and Myths about Dragonflies

Devil’s Darning Needle

One common myth surrounding dragonflies is the belief that they are called “Devil’s Darning Needle.” This myth probably arose due to their long, slender bodies and the way they fly with their needle-like abdomens. Contrary to this myth, dragonflies do not have the ability to sew or poke people with their abdomens. They are harmless insects that help control the population of other small insects and pests.

Symbolism and Good Luck

Dragonflies are often considered symbols of good luck in many cultures. For example, in Japan, they are viewed as symbols of courage and strength. This may be due to the dragonfly’s incredible flying abilities and their distinctive compound eyes.

Some features of dragonflies include:

  • Large compound eyes that provide excellent vision
  • Fast and agile flying abilities
  • Unique wing patterns and bright body colors

Key aspects of dragonfly symbolism:

  • Courage
  • Strength
  • Good fortune

In addition to their symbolism, dragonflies play a significant role in their ecosystems, as they help control the populations of smaller insects, which can carry diseases and damage crops.

While there are some myths and misconceptions about dragonflies, they are exciting insects that hold cultural significance in many parts of the world. By understanding their actual characteristics and unique qualities, it is clear that they are fascinating creatures and contribute positively to their environments.

In the common whitetail dragonfly’s mating process, the male utilizes clasping organs to hold the female. This unique aspect of dragonfly reproduction reinforces their symbolism of strength and determination.

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

 

Subject:  Unknown Bug
Geographic location of the bug:  Stormville NY
Date: 06/22/2019
Time: 03:43 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hello, I found this bug on my sidewalk it had four legs and each of the legs has black squares hanging off each leg. It could fly. It’s body was white but the wings were black. I have never seen an insect such as this one and was really curious as to what it could possibly be.
How you want your letter signed”  Simran Kumar

Common Whitetail

Dear Simran,
Despite the blurriness of your image, the distinctive markings of the male Common Whitetail Dragonfly are unmistakable.  Here is a BugGuide image for comparison. What you have mistaken for four legs are actually four wings.  The legs of the Dragonflies are useless for walking.  The Dragonfly uses its legs to perch, to land, to catch food by creating a basket and to hold onto its mate.  The Dragonfly is capable of amazing feats while flying.

Letter 2 – Common White

 

Do you have an id for this one?
Hello Bugman!
I promise not to "bug" you too often, but I just came home from a photography trip at Tule Lake in northeastern California with some butterflies I can’t identify. The one butterfly image I have cleaned up and made ready for viewing is this little beauty. Got any ideas? Thanks for your help.
Alice Steele

Hi Alice,
Your butterfly goes by the unassuming name Common White, Pieris protodice. It is easily confused with the European Cabbage Butterfly while flying, but its checkered wing pattern becomes obvious when at rest. Caterpillars feed on a variety of plants including Wild Mustard. It is an introduced Old World species first reported in Quebec about 1859, and according to Hogue, quickly spread over most of North America.

Letter 3 – Common Whitetail

 

Common Whitetail Dragonfly?
Hello, Mr. Bugman!
Love your site! I believe the attached photo is a Common Whitetail Dragonfly. It looks similar to a Broad-Bodied Chaser Dragonfly, but the wing spots would be in the wrong place, so that makes me think it’s a Common Whitetail…? Taken 6/9/07 in rural Eau Claire, Wisconsin on a hot, sunny day. Thanks!
Denise DeSerio

Hi Denise,
Your identification is correct. This is a male Common Whitetail, Plathemis lydia.

Letter 4 – Common Whitetail

 

A skeeter hawk 4 U
Thu, Apr 2, 2009 at 7:37 PM
Hey Dan,
What do you call this creature when it is not flying ? — A ‘dragon’ ?
Ferd Hall

Common Whitetail
Common Whitetail

Hi Ferd,
Since Dragonfly is not two words, it would not be likely that anyone would call a stationary specimen a dragon, but we do like the colloquialism Skeeter Hawk since Dragonflies prey on Mosquitoes. Some people call Crane Flies by the name Mosquito Hawk, but that is not at all accurate. Though Dragonfly identification is something we prefer to leave to those more proficient with the order Odonata, we are relatively certain your distinctively marked specimen is a male Common Whitetail, Plathemis lydia. It sure is a stunning photograph and it matches an image posted on BugGuide. Since you are a longtime reader of our site, you did not use our new form, and your query did not contain a sighting location, a new feature that we really like since our site migration last September.

Letter 5 – Common Whitetail

 

Subject: Never seen before
Location: St.Louis County, Missouri
August 21, 2013 9:31 am
Can you identify the insect I photographed last evening, Aug. 20, 2013, in my front yard of St.Louis County, Missouri? It had partially transparent wings and long white body and fly like head. It didn’t seem afraid and would lift into the air and land again at my feet. on concrete.
Signature: Robyn

Common Whitetail
Common Whitetail

Hi Robyn,
This Dragonfly is a male Common Whitetail,
Plathemis lydia.

Letter 6 – Common Whitetail

 

Subject: Dragonfly with unusual colors
Location: South Mississippi near the coast, Ocean Springs
July 23, 2015 9:15 pm
Hello
My daughter took this pic 07/23/15 in her backyard in Ocean Springs, MS. It appears the body is almost completely white, while the wings are transparent with these remarkable black parts. She reported it was dive-bombing the lawn mower while she was mowing the lawn. She also mentioned she has been seeing it, or identical ones, repeatedly for about 2 weeks now. BTW, the weather has been no rain and very hot and humid for weeks now, following our Memorial Day floods all around the southeast U.S.
I’m guessing this is a male “common whitetail”, or long-tailed skimmer, perhaps Plathemis lydia. Am I close?
Thank you, love this site!!!
Signature: Amateur Entomologist and fan of “What’s That Bug?”

Common Whitetail
Common Whitetail

Dear Amateur Entomologist,
Thanks so much for your enthusiastic praise.  We agree that based on images posted to BugGuide, this is a male Common Whitetail, and the scientific name is
Plathemis lydia.  In the future, you do not need to reduce the image size when you submit images as we can handle accepting large digital files.

Thanks!
I’ll be sure to send the full unmodified file next time, hopefully something more noteworthy.  BTW I just today got a slow fly-by from a healthy sized cicada killer wasp, first sighting of the season.  Bless them for helping dampen the racket we’re having right now.
Which reminds me, you kindly posted my item on 06/16/06:
2006/06/16/cicada-killer-8/
but I noticed that your link to my goofy little movie was malformed and so it doesn’t work.  The file is still there on my server, the location is:
http://www.jrj3.com/arthropods/ckwasp.mpg
I thought it was unusual in that it showed the wasp returning to the exact same palm frond several times within about 15 secs.  I thought, protecting nest and/or mate probably.
Best,
James

My, you have been reading our site for a long time James.  We will correct the posting problems and post the new link to your video on the Cicada Killer page.  The behavior in the video is that of a male defending his territory.  Males will stake out good nesting places in the hope of attracting a mate and the males will buzz anything that enters the territory, but since only the females sting, the behavior of the male Cicada Killer poses no threat to humans.  Females which are capable of stinging are quite docile and we have yet to get a substantiated report of a person being stung by a Cicada Killer.

Letter 7 – Common Whitetail

 

Subject: Is it a dragonfly
Location: North Carolina
June 1, 2017 8:05 pm
See picture of bug found in my backyard.
Signature: No

Common Whitetail

Dear No,
We have identified this Dragonfly as a male Common Whitetail thanks to this BugGuide image.  We are postdating your submission to go live to our site later in the month while our editorial staff is on holiday.

Letter 8 – Common Whitetail

 

Subject:  Somekinda dragonfly?
Geographic location of the bug:  Northern Va.
Date: 07/06/2022
Time: 09:20 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi, Mr Bugman,
I have never seen a dragonfly like this. Black and white only—and the body is flattened like a straw’s white paper wrapper. Is this a rate bug?  Thanks!
How you want your letter signed:  Georgette

Common Whitetail

Dear Georgette,
The Common Whitetail is surely a stunning looking Dragonfly.  According to BugGuide the preferred habitat is:  “Ponds, lakes, marshes, streams; adults may also be found some distance from water.”

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.

1 thought on “Do Common Whitetail Dragonflies Bite? Debunking the Myth”

  1. I work outside in the Niagara region, particularily the Niagara Bench and I see these beautiful creatures all the time!

    Reply

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