Widow Skimmer: All You Need to Know in a Quick Guide

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The fascinating Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) is a dragonfly species you might have come across while exploring wetlands or ponds. These creatures sport a distinctive appearance, with dark wing markings resembling mourning garments. You’ll notice that females and young males usually display brownish wingtips, while their abdomens showcase a brown stripe down the center, accompanied by two yellow stripes.

Mature males, on the other hand, flaunt white areas in the central part of their wings next to the dark patches. These captivating insects are territorial, often patrolling large areas in search of females or warding off rival males. After mating, the female lays her eggs in shallow ponds or lakes, sometimes guarded by the male to ensure the success of their offspring.

While observing these remarkable winged beings, you’ll not only gain insight into their mesmerizing world but also enrich your understanding of the diverse dragonfly species that grace our ecosystems.

Classification and Scientific Name

Kingdom to Order

The Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) belongs to the kingdom Animalia, which includes all animals. Within this kingdom, it is classified under the phylum Arthropoda, which comprises invertebrate animals with exoskeletons, segmented bodies, and jointed appendages, like insects, spiders, and crustaceans. As an insect, the Widow Skimmer is categorized within the class Insecta. Within Insecta, it is part of the order Odonata, a group that includes dragonflies and damselflies.

Family to Species

Moving further into its classification, the Widow Skimmer is a member of the family Libellulidae. This family is one of the largest among dragonflies and is commonly known as skimmers. The scientific name for the Widow Skimmer is Libellula luctuosa.

Comparison to Related Species

The Widow Skimmer is closely related to other dragonflies within the Libellulidae family, such as the King Skimmers (Libellula quadrimaculata). To compare Widow Skimmers and King Skimmers, consider the following table:

Feature Widow Skimmer King Skimmer
Wings Patterned, typically with a white or blue pruinescence band Unpatterned with a dark nodus
Size Medium-sized (45-70mm) Medium-sized (43-50mm)

Common and Scientific Name

The Widow Skimmer’s common name is derived from its appearance and behavior. Its wings have a distinct black band at the tip, referred to as the “widow’s band.” The name “skimmer” comes from its unique way of flying low over the water’s surface, seemingly skimming it. The scientific name, Libellula luctuosa, emphasizes its taxonomic classification within the Insecta class and Odonata order, being a part of the Libellulidae family and the Libellula genus.

Physical Description

Body Structure

The Widow Skimmer is an interesting insect belonging to the arthropod family. It has a slender, medium-sized body that is easily identifiable. The body consists of a long, cylindrical abdomen with distinct color patterns that vary between males, females, and juveniles.

Wings and Colors

One of the most noticeable features of the Widow Skimmer are its wings. These wings possess unique color patterns, which help in distinguishing them from other dragonflies. In females and young males, the wings have brownish tips, while the mature males showcase white areas located in the center of their wings, right beside the dark patches.

The abdomen of the Widow Skimmer has a variety of colors. It exhibits a brown stripe that runs down its center, and on either side of this central stripe are two yellow stripes. The combination of these colorful stripes, the dark wing markings, and the mourning garb-like appearance is what makes the Widow Skimmer visually striking among dragonflies.

  • Features:

    • Distinctive wing markings
    • Striped abdomen with variable colors
    • Slender body structure
  • Colors:

    • Brown stripe on abdomen
    • Two yellow stripes adjacent to the brown stripe
    • Brownish wingtips in females and young males
    • White spots in mature male wings

When observing Widow Skimmers in the wild, you’ll notice their vibrant colors and unique wing patterns. Comparing them to other dragonflies can be a fun and educational experience, as you learn to identify the specific features that set them apart.

Life Cycle and Mating

Eggs to Adults

The life cycle of the Widow Skimmer, like other dragonflies, starts with the female laying her eggs in shallow ponds or lakes. As they hatch, the nymphs emerge and begin their growth process. During spring and summer, they undergo several molting phases as they grow. Ultimately, they transform into adults after a few weeks to months, depending on environmental conditions.

For the Widow Skimmer, their life cycle involves:

  • Eggs laid in shallow ponds or lakes
  • Nymphs emerge and go through molting
  • Transformation to adults in spring and summer

Mating Behavior

When it comes to mating behavior, males play an active role. They are territorial and often patrol vast areas in search of females while keeping rival males at bay. Once a male finds a female, they mate, and the female proceeds to lay her eggs.

In some cases, the male may guard the female while she lays her eggs, ensuring that other males don’t interfere. This behavior, known as “mate guarding,” increases the chances that the male’s genes will be passed on to future generations.

In summary, Widow Skimmer’s mating behavior involves:

  • Males patrolling territories to find females
  • Mating with females, followed by egg-laying
  • Possible mate guarding to ensure successful breeding

Habitat and Distribution

Preferred Locations

The Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) is a dragonfly species that typically prefers habitats with calm waters, such as ponds, lakes, and surrounding areas. They are often found near the shoreline where they can perch on vegetation or other structures.

In these habitats, you will see them frequently flying around and enjoying the peaceful environment of their chosen location. Here is a summary of their preferred environments:

  • Calm waters
  • Shallow ponds or lakes
  • Vegetation near shorelines

Geographical Distribution

The Widow Skimmer can be found throughout various regions in the United States and parts of Canada. Their range spreads across much of the U.S. and extends into Ontario and Quebec in Canada.

For an easier understanding, here is a list of areas where the Widow Skimmer can be found:

  • United States
  • Canada
    • Ontario
    • Quebec

Remember, when trying to spot a Widow Skimmer, it’s essential to look for calm water bodies with vegetation nearby. Keep an eye out for their distinctive dark wing markings and enjoy observing these fascinating insects in their natural habitat.

Behavior and Diet

Daily Habits and Behavior

The Widow Skimmer, like other dragonflies, has fascinating daily habits and behaviors. During the day, you can observe them flying energetically in search of prey. At night, they rest on vegetation or other surfaces to conserve their energy for the next day’s hunting sessions.

When it comes to territory, these insects can be quite territorial. They often establish and defend a specific area from other dragonflies, ensuring they have a prime hunting ground and a place to mate.

Prey and Predators

Widow Skimmers are excellent hunters and contribute to controlling mosquito populations. They primarily feed on:

  • Mosquitoes
  • Small insects
  • Flies
  • Gnats

Due to their voracious appetite, these dragonflies play a crucial role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem. However, they are not invincible and have their predators, such as:

  • Birds
  • Frogs
  • Spiders

Overall, understanding the behavior and diet of Widow Skimmers not only offers a fascinating glimpse into the life of dragonflies but also highlights their importance in our ecosystem.

Conservation Status

The conservation status of the Widow Skimmer is generally stable. These dragonflies are quite common in many parts of the United States. You may come across them in various habitats, like ponds, lakes, and slow-moving streams.

Being skilled predators, Widow Skimmers play an essential role in controlling the populations of small flying insects. They help maintain a healthy ecosystem by preying on mosquitoes and other insects.

However, it’s crucial to maintain clean water bodies and protect their natural habitats, ensuring the long-term survival of the Widow Skimmer and other dragonflies. Encourage practices that prevent water pollution and contamination, as well as the preservation of wetlands and riparian areas.

While the Widow Skimmer is not currently considered a candidate species for the endangered list, it’s always a good idea to support conservation efforts, especially for species that play such an important role in our ecosystems. By protecting their habitats and working on conservation initiatives, you can contribute to ensuring these fascinating creatures continue to thrive and play a vital role in maintaining a balanced environment.

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 – Widow Skimmer


Dragonfly ID
August 1, 2009
This was taken in NJ 8/2/09. Can you you ID?
Thanks Brian
Williamstown NJ

Widow Skimmer
Widow Skimmer

Hi Brian,
This is a male Widow Skimmer, Libellula luctuosa.  According to BugGuide:  “Mature males have a large basal area of brown on each of the four wings, and each wing also has a whitish area roughly at the middle. Their brown bodies become increasingly pruinose (whitish) as they get older.  Females and immature males have the same brown wing bands as the mature males, but not the whitish areas. Wings usually have a brown tip. A dorsal view of the abdomen shows a brown band at center with a yellow stripe running along each side.
Since the body on your individual is pale lavender, we can deduce that it is a more mature male.

Letter 2 – Widow Skimmer


Subject: Female Widow Skimmer Dragonfly
Location: Naperville, IL
June 25, 2012 11:21 pm
Hi Daniel~
I do believe this is a female widow skimmer, aka Libellula luctuosa, as she lacks the white bloom on the wings that characterizes the males. She rests in these photos on some Russian Sage and on delphinium.
All the best to you.
Signature: -Dori Eldridge

Widow Skimmer

Hi Dori,
We agree that this is a Widow Skimmer, but we cannot confirm that it is a female because according to BugGuide:  “Females and immature males have the same brown wing bands as the mature males, but not the whitish areas. Wings usually have a brown tip. A dorsal view of the abdomen shows a brown band at center with a yellow stripe running along each side.”

Reader Emails


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 – Bug of the Month July 2022: Widow Skimmers


Subject:  Widow Skimmer
Geographic location of the bug:  Campbell, Ohio
Date: 07/09/2022
Time: 09:59 AM EDT
Dear Readers,
You might not remember that Daniel, the Bugman, actually once posted numerous identification requests per day before disappearing from actively participating in this site.  Well, Daniel has had many changes in his personal life, including inheriting his family home in Northeast Ohio.  We hope this posting is a sign that Daniel will be returning to doing regular postings and once again attempting to identify the numerous requests that still come in daily, but first he has to remember how to log back into the incoming mailbox, so for now, we hope you enjoy these images of Widow Skimmers, Libellula luctuosa.
When Daniel first observed a dark insect fluttering, he thought it was a butterfly, but closer examination revealed the identification error.  Daniel suspects that the first sighting might have been the maiden flight for a newly emerged adult that was just learning to use its wings.  The next day its flight seemed much more confident.

This Widow Skimmer was first sighted fluttering in the garden.

Daniel has observed what he thought was the same Dragonfly for a month, and this Friday he realized there were at least two Widow Skimmers in the garden, and that they most likely emerged from the small pond (actually a plastic child’s swimming pool that has held water for over 40 years in the back yard and is full of water lilies).  Daniel watched the two Widow Skimmers flying in a Skimmer dance about the garden.  Daniel also learned on the University of Milwaukee Field Station site that “Widows are so named because they oviposit without the protection of their mates (one source reports that luctuosa means sorrowful and compares their wing color to mourning crepe). They perch down in the tall grasses and fly up unexpectedly as the BugLady explores, spotting her long before she spots them.”

Widow Skimmer



  • 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.

    View all posts
  • 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.

    View all posts
Tags: Widow Skimmers

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