Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer, photo by Wanda Koepf
Widow Skimmer, photo by Wanda Koepf

It’s a wonder that one of the world’s most spectacular and strongest flying insects begins life as a dingy, sinister-looking aquatic larva.  Dragonflies undergo incomplete metamorphosis; there is no pupal stage, during development from egg to adult.  They are quick and ferocious hunters during all stages of their life cycle. 

Fossil records show the Odonates (Order of dragonflies and damselflies) have been on this earth for a very long time.  They date back to Carboniferous times so they were here more than 300 million years ago – predating the dinosaurs by about 100 million years and the birds by about 150 million.  The largest fossils have wingspans measuring an astounding 27.5 to 29.5 inches. 

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Dragonflies are among the fastest insect fliers although the widow skimmer, Libella luctosa, flies more slowly and weakly.  It is easy to identify since the male has a striking wing pattern formed by broad black and white bands.  This mosquito–hawk is named “widow” skimmer for several reasons, but not because it preys on single vulnerable ladies.  The species name (luctosa) means sorrowful or mournful and using one’s imagination; its wings appear to be clothed in mourning drapes.  Also, male dragonflies usually guard females from other males while they lay eggs, but this species often abandons the female, thus he “widows” her.

Widow skimmers are found throughout the U.S. and Canada including the slow moving water on the refuge.  They are really beautiful to see – unless you’re a mosquito!