Flame Skimmer: All You Need to Know for Dragonfly Enthusiasts

The Flame Skimmer is a fascinating species of dragonfly known for its distinct reddish-orange coloration, making it quite an eye-catching sight near water bodies throughout parts of North America. This large dragonfly can range in length from 2 1/16 to 2 7/16 inches (52 to 61 mm), and is commonly found in environments such as marshy lakes, acid bogs, slow streams, and ponds.

One interesting aspect of Flame Skimmers is their territorial behavior. Males engage in competitive displays of flight, and the “winner” claims a prized perch as their territory for the day. It’s worth mentioning that these territories change daily, which might provide ample opportunities for nature enthusiasts to observe them in action. When planning your next outdoor excursion, keep an eye out for these red beauties gracefully navigating the skies near various water sources.

Flame Skimmer Overview

Identification

The Flame Skimmer (Libellula saturata) is a striking member of the dragonfly family, Odonata. It belongs to the Anisoptera suborder and was first described in 1857. This fascinating insect is characterized by its unique, bright red coloration, which covers its entire body, including its legs and wing veins.

Size

Adult Flame Skimmers are considered large dragonflies, with a length ranging between 2 1/16 to 2 7/16 inches (52 to 61 mm) 1.

Habitat

These dragonflies are typically found near ponds, streams, and other bodies of water, as they require a sufficient water source for breeding. Their vibrant coloration helps them stand out in their natural environment and attract potential mates.

Range

Flame Skimmers are found primarily in the southwestern United States, with their range extending from southwestern Idaho, west and south to southern California, and east to Wyoming 2. Their presence in these areas contributes to the rich biodiversity of these regions.

Classification and Species

Scientific Classification

The Flame Skimmer belongs to the kingdom Animalia, phylum Arthropoda, and class Insecta. Its scientific classification is as follows:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Odonata
  • Suborder: Anisoptera

Genus Libellula

The Flame Skimmer is part of the Libellula genus that comprises various dragonfly species. A key feature of this genus:

  • Large size, ranging from 2 1/16 to 2 7/16 inches (52 to 61 mm) in length.

Family Libellulidae

The Flame Skimmer is a member of the Libellulidae family. Characteristics of the family include:

  • Colorful and attractive appearance
  • Territorial behavior

Comparison of Flame Skimmer with another Libellulidae family member, the Twelve-Spotted Skimmer:

Feature Flame Skimmer Twelve-Spotted Skimmer
Wing Spots Red wing veins 12 dark brown wing spots
Distribution SW Idaho, California, SW US, Wyoming Missouri, other parts of the US
Behavior Territories change daily Similar territorial behavior
Size 2 1/16 to 2 7/16 inches (52 to 61 mm) Similar size range

The Flame Skimmer can be found in the southwestern part of the United States, including southwestern Idaho, California, and Wyoming.

Physical Characteristics

Color and Pattern

  • Male: bright orange
  • Female: paler, amber color

Flame Skimmers are known for their distinctive colors. Males have a bright orange body, while females exhibit a more amber color. This striking difference helps distinguish between the sexes.

Wings

Comparison Table

Feature Male Flame Skimmer Female Flame Skimmer
Nodus Present Present
Hind wing Clear Clear
Leading edge Colorful Colorful
Wing spots White Brown

Flame Skimmers have clear hind wings with a nodus—a notch near the wing’s midsection. The leading edge of their wings is where they display colorful patterns. Males have white wing spots, while females have brown ones. This further adds to the visual distinction between male and female Flame Skimmers.

Behavior and Ecology

Diet

Flame Skimmers are known to consume a variety of small organisms in their diet. Examples include:

  • Mosquito larvae
  • Aquatic fly larvae
  • Mayfly larvae
  • Freshwater shrimp
  • Small fish
  • Tadpoles

As predators, they help control populations of mosquito larvae and other aquatic insects.

Breeding

Males and females have specific roles in the breeding process.

Males:

  • Defend territories near water
  • Court females by performing aerial displays

Females:

  • Lay eggs after mating
  • Select the right location for egg deposition

An interesting fact is that the skimmer dragonfly females lay eggs in water, ensuring the survival of their offspring.

Flight Patterns

Flame Skimmers exhibit unique flight patterns, making them easy to identify. Main characteristics of their flight include:

  • Hovering
  • Quick directional changes
  • Rapid wingbeats
Species Flight pattern Hovering Ability
Flame Skimmer Fast, agile Yes
Other dragonflies Varies Some species

Their amazing flight abilities help them catch prey and avoid predators.

Interactions with Plants and Other Insects

Significance for Plant Life

Flame Skimmer dragonflies play a crucial role in controlling the insect populations near plants. They prey on various insects, including moths and ants. This helps protect plants like asters and reeds from potential damage.

  • Example: Flame Skimmers feeding on aphids protect aster plants from their destructive feeding habits.

Predators and Prey

Flame Skimmers are not just predators; they can also become prey for larger insects and birds. Damselflies can sometimes prey on smaller dragonflies, like Flame Skimmers.

Comparison Table

Predator Prey
Flame Skimmer Moth
Flame Skimmer Ant
Damselfly Flame Skimmer

As part of an intricate ecosystem, Flame Skimmers contribute positively by keeping a balance of insect populations. They benefit the plant life around them by reducing the number of damaging pests that could harm flowers and other vegetation. However, they can also fall prey to other insects and birds within their habitat, displaying the interconnected nature of their environment.

Comparison to Other Dragonflies

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

The Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella) is a well-known dragonfly with distinguishing features:

  • 12 brown spots on four wings
  • Whitish-blue, black-striped abdomen
  • Female: yellowish markings, no blue pruinosity

Often found near ponds, lakes, and marshes, Twelve-spotted Skimmers like to perch on waterside vegetation for hunting small insects.

Widow Skimmer

The Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) is another striking dragonfly species:

  • Broad, dark wing bands
  • Male: whitish-blue abdomen, blue pruinosity
  • Female: yellowish-brown abdomen, no blue pruinosity

Habitat preferences include ponds, lakes, and slow-moving streams. They often perch on plants and rocks waiting to catch their prey.

Comparison Table

Feature Twelve-spotted Skimmer Widow Skimmer
Wing Spots 12 brown spots Broad, dark wing bands
Male Abdomen Whitish-blue, black-striped Whitish-blue, blue pruinosity
Female Abdomen Yellowish markings, no blue pruinosity Yellowish-brown, no blue pruinosity
Habitat Ponds, lakes, marshes Ponds, lakes, slow-moving streams

In summary, the Twelve-spotted Skimmer and Widow Skimmer are both remarkable dragonflies with distinct characteristics. They display differences in wing patterns, abdomen colors, and habitats, making them easily distinguishable in the wild.

Photography Tips and Rating Content

Photography Advice

  • Keep it brief.
  • Make your paragraphs user-friendly.
  • Use tables, bullet points, and bold text where necessary.

When photographing Flame Skimmers, it’s essential to use a camera with a good zoom lens, such as a compact camera. This will enable you to capture the intricate details of the dragonfly without disturbing its natural behavior.

Some tips for photographing Flame Skimmers:

  • Use a fast shutter speed.
  • Experiment with different lighting conditions (e.g. harsh sunlight, overcast skies).
  • Use a tripod for stable shots.
  • Take multiple shots for a better selection when rating content.

Location Recommendations

Flame Skimmers can be found in various locations across the western United States, particularly in California and Arizona. To capture stunning photos, look for these dragonflies in marshy lakes, fens, acid bogs, plant-filled ponds, and very slow streams.

Locations comparison:

Location Flame Skimmer Population Photography Opportunities
California High Excellent
Arizona Moderate Good

In conclusion, when photographing Flame Skimmers, be prepared with the right camera equipment, use appropriate photography techniques, and choose the best locations.

Conservation and Human Impact

Threats and Conservation Efforts

Flame Skimmers (Libellula saturata) are a species of dragonfly found in western North America. They are a part of the family Libellulidae and are also known as Firecracker Skimmers. These insects typically inhabit areas near streams and hot springs.

The primary threats to Flame Skimmers are habitat loss and degradation. As human populations expand, the natural environments that these insects rely on can be compromised. Examples of such threats include:

  • Pollution from urban and agricultural runoff
  • Pesticides used in agriculture
  • Destruction of riparian habitats

Conservation efforts to protect the Flame Skimmer should focus on:

  • Preserving natural habitats
  • Reducing the use of harmful chemicals
  • Implementing aquatic ecosystem management strategies

Role in Ecosystem Management

Flame Skimmers play an essential role in maintaining the balance of ecosystems they inhabit. As predators, they help control populations of smaller insects, such as mosquitoes and midges. This in turn has positive effects on human health, as mosquitoes can transmit diseases like malaria and West Nile Virus.

In addition, their presence can be an indicator of ecosystem health. A thriving population of Flame Skimmers suggests a healthy aquatic environment, as their larvae are particularly sensitive to water pollution. By monitoring Flame Skimmer populations, conservationists can identify areas in need of improvement and make informed decisions about ecosystem management.

Here’s a comparison table of Flame Skimmers and other dragonflies in the Libellulidae family:

Feature Flame Skimmer Other Libellulidae Dragonflies
Habitat Streams, hot springs Ponds, wetlands, varied aquatic habitats
Size Up to 3.1 inches wingspan Varies, 1-3 inches wingspan
Color Bright orange-red Varying colors, often with markings on wings

In summary, it’s crucial to be mindful of the impact that humans have on the habitats and ecosystems in which Flame Skimmers live. By focusing on conservation efforts and understanding their role in ecosystem management, we can work to ensure the continued existence of these vibrant and ecologically important insects.

Footnotes

  1. Flame Skimmer Size
  2. Flame Skimmer Range

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 – Flame Skimmer

Dragonfly resubmission
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.
Jammin Bill
Sacramento, Ca.

Flame Skimmer
Flame Skimmer

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.

Flame Skimmer
Flame Skimmer

Letter 2 – Big Red Skimmer

We are jumping right on the opportunity to start a new page with this photo we just took in our garden of a common dragonfly known as the Big Red Skimmer, Libellula saturata. There are many myths associated with dragonflies as well as many colorful common names including Devil’s Darning Needle, Snake Doctors, Horse Stingeres and Caballos del Diablo. They do not bite and are helpful in eliminating harmful insect pests, especially mosquitos.

Letter 3 – Big Red Skimmer Naiad

Aquatic insect or larva
Location:  Los Angeles, CA
September 23, 2010 8:44 pm
I found this bug hidden in the water under a thick carpet of water lettuce in my pond. It appears to be fully aquatic at this time, but I see four future wings that are probably not all that useful in water.
The pond was visited many times by a red dragonfly. This guy is a bit stubby but I wonder if it’s one if its brood. Surprised it survived (so far) the voracious mosquito fish that live in there.
Thank you!
Signature:  Laurentiu

Naiad of a Big Red Skimmer

Dear Laurentiu,
This is certainly a Dragonfly Naiad, and since you saw a red Dragonfly visit your pond, we feel confident identifying your Naiad as that of a Big Red Skimmer,
Libellula saturata, based on an excellent drawing by T. Ross that illustrates Charles Hogue’s excellent book Insects of the Los Angeles Basin, a must have for anyone living in Los Angeles.  You can buy it at the Museum of Natural History gift store.  BugGuide does not recognize the name common name used by Hogue for Libellula saturata and the species is called the Flame Skimmer.  In honor of one of the best contemporary insect book authors, we will adhere to Hogue’s terminology.

Letter 4 – Flame Skimmer

Male Flame Skimmer?
Location: Hawthorne, California
May 12, 2012 4:44 pm
Hi Daniel,
Well, the bugs are back! After two Anna’s hummingbird nests (same mother) in the front this year and more than a few Black Headed Grosbeaks in back (still visiting and most unusual for here) – Marty spotted this dragonfly on the cigar plants in back. I think I have it correctly identified as a male Flame Skimmer (Libellula saturata). The shot of it’s underside is a bit washed out because it was in such heavy shade. Can you please confirm? I know you just love dragonfly id requests!
Signature: Thanks, Anna

Flame Skimmer

Hi Anna,
We are thrilled to get a new submission from you.  While we agree that this appears to be a Flame Skimmer,
Libellula saturata, we are more inclined to identify it as a female.  The BugGuide description on separating the sexes reads:  “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.”

Flame Skimmer

Hi Daniel,
Thanks very much and yes, I do see the difference between the male and female.  Should have known!  Hope all is well with you.  I’m glad to see the bugs back again.  The front feels so empty now that I don’t have hummer nests & little blind, bald babies to photograph.
Anna

Letter 5 – Flame Skimmer

Subject: Flame Skimmer (Libellula Saturata)
Location: Northern part of Grand Tetons National Park
August 6, 2013 9:24 pm
Greetings!
My family and I just got back from a vacation to the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Park. True to form, I think I took more pictures of insects (and the occasional arachnid) than anything else- they have a rather different crop of bugs out west than we do in our native Missouri. My favorite was this handsome skimmer. He looked like amber in the bright sunlight, and though several of his relatives were zipping about, he was the only one near enough to the bank for me to snap his photo. I had to balance precariously on a small rock in a rapids below a waterfall to do so, though, inching the camera ever-so-slowly closer to keep him from darting off.
Anyway, after a thorough scouring of BugGuide and WTB, I think I’ve got him pinned down as a male Flame Skimmer (Libellula Saturata). I always enjoy WTB, and I hope you enjoy this picture!
Signature: Most sincerely, Helen

Flame Skimmer
Flame Skimmer

Hi Helen,
Thank you for your lovely photo of a Flame Skimmer and your detailed letter.  We were away from the office when you submitted this and we are just now catching up on a bit of unanswered mail.

Letter 6 – Flame Skimmer

Subject: Flame Skimmer
Location: NE Heights, Albuquerque NM
July 1, 2017 3:17 pm
Found this guy on a tomato tower in my garden this morning. He was kind enough to sit still long enough for me to run and get my camera.
Signature: J. C. Hunter

Flame Skimmer

Dear J.C. Hunter,
We are very happy to post your beautiful image of a male Flame Skimmer.  They are described on BugGuide as:  “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.”  Several weeks ago we missed the opportunity to capture an image of one that was perched on a dried twig near our fountain (currently containing water but in need of a new motor) because it flew when we returned with the camera.  Our offices in Los Angeles overlook a natural portion of the LA River, though it is about a mile away.  Neon Skimmers and/or Flame Skimmers are the only Dragonflies we regularly see in our hilltop location. 

Letter 7 – Female Flame Skimmer, we believe

While clearing away the dried sweet pea vines in preparation for mandatory brush clearance in Southern California, we encountered this lovely female Flame Skimmer, Libellula saturata, waiting to warm up in the morning chill. She was quite cooperative, not flying away until we attempted to move her from the dried vine she was resting upon. The Flame Skimmer is called the Big Red Skimmer by Charles Hogue in his wonderful book, Insects of the Los Angeles Basin.

Update: May 22, 2011
We now believe this is a female Neon Skimmer,
Libellula croceipennis, based on this photo on BugGuide.

Letter 8 – Male Flame Skimmer

Subject:  Skimmer? Dragonfly?
Location:  Whitewater Preserve, Riverside County, California
July 25, 2014
dear what’s that bug?
this handsome creature posed on my car’s antenna at the wildlands conservancy’s “Whitewater Preserve” in riverside county this past weekend. could you ID him for me, please?
thank you! clare.

Flame Skimmer
Flame Skimmer

Hi Clare,
We believe that based on images posted to BugGuide, this is a male Flame Skimmer,
Libellula saturata, a species of Dragonfly.  It is described on BugGuide as:  “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.”

Flame Skimmer
Flame Skimmer

Letter 9 – Male Neon Skimmer visits WTB?

Subject:  Male Neon Skimmer comes to stagnant fountain
Location:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
August 12, 2017 11:07 am
This morning, our editorial staff ventured outside after posting many of our readers identification requests, and we immediately spotted this male Neon Skimmer.  We had seen a male in late June and then in early July we got some images of a female Neon Skimmer ovipositing in the stagnant fountain.  There are never any Mosquito larvae in the stagnant fountain, and the raccoons are always dragging out the algae, probably hunting for naiads.

Male Neon Skimmer
Male Neon Skimmer

Letter 10 – Red Skimmer

bugs
Hello,
I took this picture in Cave Creek, AZ, it was flying around the swimming pool.
Thanks,
Doris Sabo
Bullhead City, AZ

Hi Doris,
This Dragonfly is a Red Skimmer, Libellula saturata.

Letter 11 – Red Rock Skimmer

Three Bugs from near Sedona, AZ
The third photo was taken on the West Fork trail in the same area. Lovely dragonfly. I think the body was about 2 – 2 1/2 inches long and the wing span was about 3 inches. If you can identify any of these, I’d be grateful.
Su — Mesa, AZ

Hi Su,
Your Dragonfly looks like a Red Skimmer, Libellula saturata. This is a warm region species. It breeds in stagnant small ponds and pools. It is conspicuous because of its large size.

Correction: Sat, Feb 21, 2009 at 3:38 AM
Comment:
Good morning, If I may, this is a Red Rock Skimmer(Paltothemis lineatipes).
Renaud, Switzerland

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 “Flame Skimmer: All You Need to Know for Dragonfly Enthusiasts”

Leave a Comment