White Tail Dragonfly: Quick Facts and Essential Guide

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The White Tail Dragonfly is a fascinating insect that can often be spotted around ponds, lakes, and slow-moving streams. Known for its distinctive appearance, the common whitetail is an easily recognizable species found across much of North America. Males are characterized by their bright white abdomen and black banded wings, while females have a brownish body with striped black wings ^.

In this article, you’ll discover essential information about the White Tail Dragonfly. You’ll learn about its habitat, breeding habits, and the key role it plays in its ecosystem. From their fascinating color patterns to their incredible hunting techniques, there is so much to know about these intriguing creatures.

Get ready to dive into the captivating world of the White Tail Dragonfly and explore the unique characteristics that set them apart from other dragonfly species. Whether you’re an insect enthusiast or simply curious about nature’s wonders, there’s no doubt that the White Tail Dragonfly will leave you fascinated and inspired.

The White Tail Dragonfly

The White Tail Dragonfly is a fascinating insect that belongs to the order of odonates. These invertebrates are commonly found throughout the United States, and are known for their distinctive white tails and impressive flying abilities.

As a dragonfly enthusiast, you’ll appreciate their unique features. The White Tail Dragonfly boasts:

  • Large, transparent wings
  • A long, slender abdomen
  • Powerful, swift flight
  • Eyes that cover most of the head

Similar to other dragonflies, they possess strong jaws for capturing and consuming their prey, which typically includes other invertebrates, such as flies and mosquitoes. This makes them a natural form of pest control in ecosystems.

In terms of habitat, these odonates thrive near ponds, lakes, and slow-moving streams. They have a fascinating life cycle, starting as aquatic larvae (also known as nymphs) before emerging as adults with wings. As an avid observer, you’ll notice that adult White Tail Dragonflies perch on tall vegetation, patiently waiting for their unsuspecting prey.

When comparing the White Tail Dragonfly to other species, consider the following table:

Feature White Tail Dragonfly Other Dragonflies
Tail Color White Various colors
Wing Shape Slightly broad Narrow to broad
Perching Behavior Frequent Varies by species

Always remember to respect these delicate creatures and their habitat while observing them. By understanding and appreciating the White Tail Dragonfly, you can further your passion for these amazing invertebrates and contribute to their conservation.

Physical Characteristics

Wings and Body

The White Tail Dragonfly is known for its distinctive appearance, which includes a white or brown body with a checkered look and brownish-black bands. The translucent wings are an important part of this insect’s physical makeup:

  • White body: The white body of the dragonfly contrasts with its darker markings, creating a unique and eye-catching pattern.
  • Brown body: Some White Tail Dragonflies have a brown body instead of white, but still maintain the same checkered pattern and brownish-black bands.
  • Translucent wings: Their wings are almost transparent, giving them an elegant and delicate appearance when in flight.

Eyes and Vision

Eye-catching indeed is the vision system of the White Tail Dragonfly. You’ll be fascinated by its compound eyes and ability to see an almost complete 360 degrees:

  • Compound eyes: Their bulging eyes are made up of thousands of individual facets, allowing for exceptional vision.
  • Vision: They have the ability to see ultraviolet and polarized light, which helps them hunt for prey and find mates. They can even shift their focus to a specific target amidst multiple objects. More about their vision.

Size and Speed

Although the White Tail Dragonfly is smaller than some other dragonfly species, its size does not compromise its speed and agility:

  • Size: These dragonflies are relatively small, but their streamlined bodies make them skilled aerial predators.
  • Speed: Despite their size, they can achieve impressive speeds, allowing them to efficiently chase prey and evade predators in the air.

By understanding the physical characteristics of the White Tail Dragonfly, you can truly appreciate the beauty and functionality of this intriguing insect.

Species and Subspecies

Common Whitetail

The Common Whitetail is a species of dragonfly in the family Libellulidae, scientifically known as Plathemis lydia. These dragonflies are commonly found across the United States and Canada. They are characterized by:

  • White body and white pruinose on the abdomen of adult males
  • Wings with dark brown bands in both males and females
  • Females having a brown body with pale lateral stripes

You might spot these dragonflies near ponds, lakes, and slow-moving streams.

Twelve-Spotted Skimmer

The Twelve-Spotted Skimmer, another species belonging to the Odonata order and Anisoptera suborder, is scientifically called Libellula pulchella. As the name suggests, they have 12 dark spots across their wings, making them easily identifiable. They are found in the United States and Canada, similar to the Common Whitetail. Notable characteristics include:

  • Males having a white body with a bluish tint
  • Females with yellow-brown bodies and light bands on the abdomen

Twelve-Spotted Skimmers are usually found in marshes, pond edges, and slow-moving streams.

Long-Tailed Skimmer

The Long-Tailed Skimmer, another member of the Libellulidae family, is a less common species. These dragonflies get their name from their unusually long abdomens. They are also known for:

  • Diverse color patterns, making them visually striking
  • Typically larger size compared to other skimmers

Long-Tailed Skimmers are generally found near slow-moving water bodies, like the other species mentioned.

Here’s a comparison table of these three species:

Species Wing Pattern Typical Habitat
Common Whitetail Dark brown bands Ponds, lakes, slow-moving streams
Twelve-Spotted Skimmer 12 dark spots Marshes, pond edges, slow-moving streams
Long-Tailed Skimmer Diverse, larger size Slow-moving water bodies

In summary, understanding the differences between these three dragonfly species – Common Whitetail, Twelve-Spotted Skimmer, and Long-Tailed Skimmer – will help you appreciate their unique features and habitats as you observe them in the wild.

Distribution and Habitat

North America

White Tail Dragonflies are commonly found in various environments across North America. They can be seen in both the United States and Canada. As a result, you will likely encounter these fascinating insects in different types of habitats.

Their distribution spans from the east to west coast of the continent, making them a widespread species. You may find them in forested areas, grasslands, and even urban environments with suitable water sources nearby.

Water Bodies

White Tail Dragonflies are closely associated with various water bodies, as these are essential for their breeding and life cycle. You can typically find them near ponds, rivers, and fens. These aquatic environments provide the necessary conditions for their survival, including sources of food and shelter.

Some common features of their preferred habitats include:

  • Shallow water with abundant aquatic vegetation
  • Slow-moving or still water, like in ponds or fens
  • Proximity to diverse plant life to provide ideal hunting grounds

In summary, White Tail Dragonflies can be found across North America and prefer habitats near water bodies such as ponds, rivers, and fens. Their distribution is widespread, and they enjoy a variety of environments as long as suitable water sources are available for their breeding and survival.


Flight and Perching

White Tail Dragonflies are fascinating flying insects with unique behaviors. As a flyer, you’ll notice them hovering in mid-air, which is a common trait among dragonflies. They’re known as perchers, frequently landing on plants and other surfaces in their environment.

  • Expert flyers
  • Frequent perchers
  • Masters of hovering

Comparing their flight to other dragonflies, White Tail Dragonflies are more agile and capable of abrupt maneuvers. For example, they can change their direction suddenly to catch their prey mid-flight.

Reproduction and Mating

When it comes to reproduction, it’s essential to understand the differences between male and female White Tail Dragonflies. Whitetail females possess a specific secondary genitalia structure that plays a crucial role in mating.

Mating happens in-flight, with the male grasping the female’s head using specialized appendages. Afterward, they form a tandem position, which allows the male to transfer his sperm to the female’s secondary genitalia.

Life Cycle:

  1. Mating occurs in-flight
  2. Female dragonflies lay eggs
  3. Eggs hatch into larvae
  4. Larvae undergo multiple growth stages before emerging as adults

White Tail Dragonflies have a fascinating and unique life cycle. By observing their behaviors, flight patterns, and reproduction habits, you can appreciate their beauty and intricacy even more.

Role in the Ecosystem

White Tail Dragonflies play a crucial role in their ecosystem. As both predators and prey, they contribute to the balance of insect populations and serve as a food source for other animals.

During the nymph stage, these dragonflies mainly feed on mosquito larvae, helping to control the mosquito population. You might be surprised to learn that fish love to eat dragonfly nymphs, which act as an important part of their diet.

As adults, White Tail Dragonflies eat other insects, primarily flying ones, such as mosquitoes and even small flying beetles. This makes them valuable for controlling various insect populations. This, in turn, could benefit you because these insects they prey upon are often considered pests.

At the same time, adult dragonflies are a primary food source for birds, spiders, and even other dragonflies like damselflies.

In summary, White Tail Dragonflies have a significant impact on their ecosystem by:

  • Controlling insect populations such as mosquitoes
  • Serving as a food source for a variety of predators including fish, birds, and spiders

Overall, a healthy population of White Tail Dragonflies is essential for maintaining the balance of their surrounding ecosystem. So, next time you spot a White Tail Dragonfly, appreciate the crucial role it plays in the environment.

Facts and Guides

You may have come across the White Tail Dragonfly while exploring nature in the USA. This fascinating insect has some unique features that make it stand out among other dragonflies.

Naiads: White Tail Dragonfly’s life begins as naiads, or aquatic nymphs, living in water. These well-camouflaged creatures are hunters, feeding on small aquatic animals like tadpoles and fish.

Harmless: Despite their fierce appearance, White Tail Dragonflies are harmless to humans. They don’t have a sting and aren’t known to bite. In fact, they are beneficial for controlling mosquito populations.

Aggressive: Even though they are harmless to humans, White Tail Dragonflies can be seen as aggressive hunters in the insect world. They are swift predators, catching their prey in mid-flight.

Naturalists: If you’re a naturalist, observing White Tail Dragonflies can be a rewarding experience. Keep an eye out for their hovering flight patterns near ponds, lakes, and slow-moving rivers.

Here are some features of the White Tail Dragonfly:

  • Distinctive white tail
  • Fast and agile flyers
  • Large, compound eyes for excellent vision
  • Predator of smaller flying insects, like mosquitoes

Here are some characteristics of White Tail Dragonflies:

  • Lifespan: approximately 6–12 months
  • Predominantly found in the USA, particularly in the eastern region
  • Attracted to still waters, like ponds and marshes

By understanding their life cycle, habits, and features, you can better appreciate the White Tail Dragonfly as a fascinating insect and a valuable ally in controlling mosquito populations. So next time you’re out exploring nature, keep your eyes open for these captivating creatures.

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 – White Tail


whitetail dragonfly
We love your web site. Great info, and great pictures from everybody. We found this on the side of our house. We never used to see these things until we moved to Michigan, where we’re surrounded by lakes and water creatures. Keep up the good work!
Michael Delizia

Hi Michael,
Yor Plathemis lydia is a nice addition to our photo archive. This is a male, hence the white abdomen.

Letter 2 – White Tail


Common skimmer?
Hi folks,
Just found your wonderful site today whilst searching for an identification of a bug my mother took a picture of. She called it a "butterfly" much to my amusement, but upon searching the net, I have been able to identify it as some kind of skimmer, but I haven’t been able to find that much info on this family of dragonfly. Can you help us out? I live in Southwestern BC.
Thanks very much!

Hi Shannon,
Your dragonfly looks like a female White Tail, Plathemis lydia. The male has a gleaming white abdomen, but the female’s is brown with rows of yellow spots. The wings of both have broad dark band near the tip and a small black area at the base. It ranges from Nova Scotia to Florida and west to California , and north to British Columbia.

Update (01/29/2006)
Hi, my name is Larry Hamrin. While researching dragonflies, I came across your site. I don’t consider myself an expert at identifying dragonflies, but I would like to comment on some of the dragonflies on your website. The dragonfly you identify as a female common whitetail looks to me to be a young male without the purinose coating. I identified as a male based on wing pattern. The male has a white tail because of a waxy like coating it aquires with age. The coating covers the markings on the abdomen. An immature white tail would not have this coating. Here is a website that shows an immature white tail. This is a phtograph of a female Common White Tail.
Thank you for your time
Larry Hamrin


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    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.

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  • 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.

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3 Comments. Leave new

  • Melissa Hayes
    June 11, 2014 9:47 am

    Dear Sir or Ma’am.
    We have a bug that is white, with black on its head, its tail seem feathery. No wings. 6 legs, It looks somewhat reptilian. Its tail seems muscular, perhaps enabling it to do its 3foot+ jumps.

    What bug is this?

    Thank you for your help!!!

  • Melissa Hayes
    June 11, 2014 9:47 am

    Dear Sir or Ma’am.
    We have a bug that is white, with black on its head, its tail seem feathery. No wings. 6 legs, It looks somewhat reptilian. Its tail seems muscular, perhaps enabling it to do its 3foot+ jumps.

    What bug is this?

    Thank you for your help!!!

  • Found bugs in bathroom n kitchen, very small dark, with a tiny white tail. They play dead, n crack when you kill em,! Don’t have flees or nits or anything bitting us, but I can’t work out what they are!


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