Eight Spotted Skimmer: Quick Guide to Understanding This Unique Dragonfly

The Eight-spotted Skimmer is a fascinating dragonfly species that thrives in a variety of aquatic environments. Known for its striking appearance, this insect stands out from others in its group due to its unique wing markings and vibrant colors. In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about the Eight-spotted Skimmer, from its habitat preferences to its fascinating behavior.

Native to North America, the Eight-spotted Skimmer (Libellula forensis) is commonly found near lakes, ponds, and slow-moving streams, as well as in alkaline wetlands, spring runs, and sloughs. They are even known to venture away from water, occupying uplands or areas with clearings. With a wingspan of approximately 2.5 inches, these insects are easily recognizable by their distinct wing pattern, consisting of eight black-and-white spots.

In terms of behavior, Eight-spotted Skimmers exhibit territorial tendencies, especially with adult males who are frequently seen defending their turf against rival males. Mating and breeding take place near water bodies, creating new generations of dragonflies that continue to thrive in these ecosystems.

Description and Identification

Adult Male Characteristics

The Eight-spotted Skimmer (Libellula forensis) is a dragonfly species with distinct markings. Adult males feature:

  • Black markings on their abdomen and thorax
  • Four black spots on each wing, totaling eight spots

These markings make them easily identifiable among dragonflies.

Adult Female Characteristics

Adult female Eight-spotted Skimmers have subtle differences from males:

  • Less prominent black markings on the abdomen and thorax
  • Four black spots on each wing, similar to males
  • Absence of white spots, which are present in males

The following comparison table highlights the main differences:

Feature Adult Male Adult Female
Abdomen & Thorax Markings Prominent black markings Less prominent black markings
Wing Spots Four black spots + white spots per wing (total 8) Four black spots per wing (total 8)

Understanding these characteristics helps in distinguishing between adult male and female Eight-spotted Skimmers.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat

Range Expansion

The Eight-spotted Skimmer is primarily found in the United States, particularly in the Pacific Northwest and the Rockies. Its range has been expanding to other parts of the country, including Washington (WA).

Habitat Preferences

The Eight-spotted Skimmer prefers a variety of habitats for survival and reproduction:

  • Lakes and ponds
  • Bogs
  • Spring runs
  • Sloughs
  • Slow streams and backwaters
  • Alkaline wetlands1

These dragonflies are also known to use uplands and clearings away from water sources.

Comparison Table

Habitat Found in Eight-spotted Skimmer Habitat?
Lakes and ponds Yes
Bogs Yes
Spring runs Yes
Sloughs Yes
Slow streams and backwaters Yes
Alkaline wetlands Yes

Behavior and Ecology

Feeding Habits

Eight Spotted Skimmers, like other odonata species, are carnivorous and predominantly feed on insects. They are agile hunters and:

  • Use their strong legs to snatch prey from mid-air
  • Target a variety of insects, such as mosquitoes and flies

Mating and Reproduction

Mating in Eight Spotted Skimmers involves a unique process:

  • Males guard their territories, waiting for receptive females
  • Female and male skimmers form a “mating wheel” during copulation

Threats and Predators

These dragonflies face a number of threats:

  • Predators include birds, spiders, and frogs
  • Habitat loss can decrease their populations

Role in Ecosystem

Eight Spotted Skimmers play a significant role in their ecosystems:

  • Act as bioindicators, reflecting ecosystem health
  • Help control insect populations, by preying on mosquitoes and other insect pests

Comparison: Eight Spotted Skimmers vs. Twelve-Spotted Skimmers

Feature Eight Spotted Skimmer Twelve-Spotted Skimmer
Size Similar in size Similar in size
Wing Spots Eight dark spots Twelve dark spots, with males having additional white spots
Habitat Lakes, ponds, bogs, slow streams, wetlands Similar habitats, including lakes and slow streams

Overall, understanding the behavior and ecology of the Eight Spotted Skimmer is essential for appreciating these fascinating creatures and their role in our environment.

Closely Related Species

Twelve-Spotted Skimmer

The Twelve-Spotted Skimmer is a close relative of the Eight-Spotted Skimmer. Both species belong to the Libellulidae family. Major features of the Twelve-Spotted Skimmer include:

  • Twelve dark brown wing spots
  • Males have eight additional white spots
  • Females lack white spots
  • Brown bodies with a yellow stripe along each side of the abdomen (young males)

Six-Spot Skimmer

There isn’t much information on a specific “Six-Spot Skimmer.” However, here are other key members of the Libellula genus:

  • Libellula luctuosa: Widow Skimmer, featuring dark wing bands and white spots near wingtips
  • Libellula pulchella: Twelve-Spotted Skimmer, with distinct spotted wing pattern (see above)

Ten-Spot Skimmer

A “Ten-Spot Skimmer” isn’t a recognized species. Nevertheless, the Libellulidae family holds several species worth noting:

  • Libellula auripennis: Golden-winged Skimmer, displaying striking metallic yellow-orange wings
  • Libellula semifasciata: Painted Skimmer, characterized by deep reddish-brown wing patches

Comparison Table:

Species Wing Spots Habitat Additional Features
Twelve-Spotted Skimmer 12 Ponds, lakes, streams, marshes Males have 8 additional white spots; Females lack white spots; Brown bodies with yellow stripe
Six-Spot Skimmer N/A N/A N/A
Ten-Spot Skimmer N/A N/A N/A

In conclusion, the Twelve-Spotted Skimmer is the most closely related species to the Eight-Spotted Skimmer among the provided examples. Understanding different species in the Libellulidae family can help further appreciate the Eight-Spotted Skimmer’s unique characteristics and similarities.

Research and Observations

Field Guides and Books

The Eight-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella) is a fascinating dragonfly species with distinct wing spots. To learn more about this species, you can refer to some published resources. Notably, there are a few field guides and books that mention this dragonfly, such as:

  • Dragonflies through Binoculars (2011 edition)
  • Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West (2009 edition).

These guides are excellent sources of information on Eight-spotted Skimmers, including identification, behavior, and distribution.

Online Resources

In addition to books and field guides, there are other available resources online, such as:

BugGuide is a popular and reliable platform, offering valuable insights into the world of insects, including the Eight-spotted Skimmer. You can find information about the dragonfly’s scientific name, wing spots, and other characteristics on this platform.

Here is a comparison table of the resources mentioned in this section:

Resource Type Publication Year Content
Dragonflies through Binoculars Book 2011 Detailed information on dragonflies
Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West Book 2009 Focused on Western species
BugGuide.net Website N/A Wide variety of insect information

In summary, by utilizing these resources, you will be well-equipped to learn about and observe the Eight-spotted Skimmer in-depth.


  1. Montana Field Guide

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 – Eight Spotted Skimmer


Location:  Lake Wilderness, Maple Valley, WA
August 17, 2010 8:00 pm
What kind of bug is this? It looks like it is half dragonfly, half butterfly with blue and black markings.
Lake Lover

Eight Spotted Skimmer

Dear Lake Lover,
Many Dragonflies have beautiful coloration and markings, including this Eight Spotted Skimmer,
Libellula forensis.  BugGuide notes this bit of trivia:  “Years ago many children refered to this as the ‘Six-spot’, and counted the basal spots as two crossing the thorax, instead of four separate spots. The same went for the then ‘Ten-spot’, which most recent books have switched to calling the ‘Twelve-spotted Skimmer’. The “Six-spot” name doesn’t seem to appear in any books, but was likely rationalized from comparison with the ‘Ten-spot’ that was to be found in many books. Back then, Libellula forensis didn’t seem to have an established published common name yet.”

Letter 2 – Eight Spotted Skimmer


Eight Spotted Skimmer in the Hood
Location: Portland, Oregon
August 9, 2011 3:04 pm
Fantastic site, thank you for your labor of love!
My good friend and top sleuther, Davey identified this as an eight-spotted skimmer. I took this photo 8/7/11 on my patio in Portland, OR. I live right in the city, within two miles of the Mt. Tabor reservoir, so woods and water are nearby. This guy (or lady?) didn’t flinch at all even with my camera up in its face. It merely turned its head and smiled.
Signature: Vicki B.

Eight Spotted Skimmer

Hi Vicki,
Thank you for sending in your photo of an Eight Spotted Skimmer,
Libellula forensis, a species that is so distinctive it is unlikely to be confused with other Dragonflies, which we often have difficulty identifying.

Letter 3 – Eight Spotted Skimmer


Subject:  Big beautiful dragonfly
Geographic location of the bug:  Kent, WA
Date: 06/25/2021
Time: 04:34 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  This beauty landed on our volleyball net. Never saw one like it!
How you want your letter signed:  AaronF

Eight Spotted Skimmer

Dear AaronF,
Thank you so much for submitting your image of an Eight Spotted Skimmer,
Libellula forensis, which is pictured on BugGuideBugGuide also provides this interesting history of the evolution of its common name:  “Years ago many children refered to this as the ‘Six-spot’, and counted the basal spots as two crossing the thorax, instead of four separate spots. The same went for the then ‘Ten-spot’, which most recent books have switched to calling the ‘Twelve-spotted Skimmer’. The ‘Six-spot’ name doesn’t seem to appear in any books, but was likely rationalized from comparison with the ‘Ten-spot’ that was to be found in many books. Back then, Libellula forensis didn’t seem to have an established published common name yet.”

Letter 4 – Four Spotted Skimmer


Four Spotted Skimmer
Hi bug lovers,
Your site is amazing. I’ve spent quite a bit of time there today, looking at pictures and I am not a bug lover usually . I am, however, fascinated by dragonflies, but know very little about them. I was trying to identify this one and didn’t have any luck finding it on your site. However, I found through Google images that it is likely a Four-spotted Skimmer, (Libellula quadrimaculata). Is that right? I thought you might like a few images just in case there aren’t any on your site. Four-spotted Skimmer … Cheers and keep up the good work.
Sandra Jones
Eastern Ontario, Canada

Hi Sandra,
In trying to verify that your image was in fact a Four Spotted Skimmer, we happened upon this wonderful Dragonfly site: the Iowa Odonata Survey.

Letter 5 – Halloween Pennant, NOT Twelve Spotted Skimmer


Great shots of Dragonfly
I love your site!!! It is so interesting. I got some great shots of this Dragonfly, it stayed in this spot on my yucca plant for almost 3 hours & didn’t mind me getting in close for some shots. Do you know what type of Dragonfly this is? I live on Long Island in NY. I took the photos on Aug 5th 2008. Also do Dragonflys sting or bite us? Thanks for your help,

Hi Vanessa,
We believe this is a Twelve Spotted Skimmer, Libellula pulchella, though BugGuide does not illustrate any individuals with “broken” wing spots on the lower wings. Dragonflies do not sting nor bite despite the many superstitions indicating that they do. They are sometimes called Devil’s Darning Needles to accompany the superstition that they will sew closed the mouths of lying children.

Correction: (08/08/2008) “Twelve Spotted Skimmer” is actually a Halloween Pennant
I believe the Twelve-Spotted Skimmer you have recently posted is actually a Halloween Pennant, Celithemis eponina. The yellow and brown coloration of the wings are pretty distinctive, as is the pattern of spots. The Twelve-Spotted Skimmer always has clear wings with three black spots on each, and white spots in between them on the males. Here’s a (year-old) picture: Hope this helps!

Another Correction (08/08/2008) mis-identified 12-spotted skimmer
As a daily visitor to your site and avid insect photographer (especially dragonflies), I wanted to let you know that the dragonfly posted yesterday is not a 12-spotted skimmer, but a Halloween Pennant.
Cheryl Rose

And yet another correction: (08/08/2008) Attention: dragonfly ID
This looks like a Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina). See: http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/distr/insects/dfly/ny/341.htm ; many other good photos online; or and excellent photo on your Dragonfly 2 page (Halloween Pennant Dragonfly with hitch-hiking Mites [12/11/2007]). Regards.


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4 thoughts on “Eight Spotted Skimmer: Quick Guide to Understanding This Unique Dragonfly”

  1. I just snagged a great picture of one of these up in Amasa, MI. Landed on my camping chair, and yep, just sat and posed for my picture as well. Had no idea what kind of dragonfly this was but thought it was just amazing. Somebody told me about this site as far as discovering ‘bugs’. Now I know what this is. Thanks so much!

  2. Two of these beauties in the throes of passion landed on our kayaks, arm and fishing rod tip today on the Delaware Rver in Belvidere, NJ. Thank you for helping me ID them!


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