Libellula pulchella

Twelve-Spotted Skimmer

Libellula pulchella, Twelve-Spotted Skimmer

Family: Libellulidae

Length: 47-53 mm


The Twelve-Spotted Skimmer is among the most common West Virginia dragonfliesand among the most attractive. The Latin species name, in fact, means "pretty." The twelve brown wing spots are on both males and females, matures and immatures, and make identification of this species a snap.

Males have not only the twelve brown spots, but also a number of white spots on the wings. The abdomen is brown with a yellow stripe on each side, but note that on older individuals the stripes fade, and the abdomen becomes increasingly pruinose (waxy white). The male pictured above is older and has just a little of the brown abdominal color still showing.

Twelve-Spotted Skimmer, Libellula pulchella femaleFemales and immature males also have brown abdomens with yellow stripes. Their wings, however, lack the white wing spots.

Females look similar to female Common Whitetails, another ubiquitous West Virginia species. A key difference is that on the female Common Whitetail the light-colored stripe along the abdomen is broken into segments, while on the female Twelve-Spotted Skimmer it is straight and continuous.

Look for this species almost anywhere except along fast-moving streams. Lakes, ponds, marshes, and slow streams are all favored habitats.

Watch for the male territorial behavior. Males will sit on weed tops, flying out to meet an intruding male. The two males have a stylized contest, in which each tries to fly loop-the-loops around the other. Whichever one succeeds returns to a nearby perch, while the other moves out of the territory.

Twelve-Spotted Skimmer, Libellula pulchella male, head
Lateral view of the head and thorax of a male Twelve-Spotted Skimmer. The eyes are brown or dark red-brown. The back of the thorax is bristly. The sides of the thorax have yellow stripes.

Twelve-Spotted Skimmer, Libellula pulchella female, head
Above: The head and thorax of the female are similar to that of the male: brownish eyes, bristles on the top of the thorax, and yellow stripes on the side of the thorax.


Abdomen, Libellula pulchella, Twelve-Spotted Skimmer
Libellula pulchella, Twelve-Spotted Skimmer abdominal tip

Female and immature male Twelve-Spotted Skimmers, and female and immature male Common Whitetails have similar wing spots. Both also have brown abdomens with light-colored lateral stripes. An easy way to tell the two species apart:

Females and immature males of the Twelve-Spotted Skimmer have continuous light-colored lines along the sides of their abdomens (left). On females and immature males of Common Whitetails, the light-colored line is broken (right).

Insects of West Virginia