Thursday, August 20, 2009

Stunning Skimmers

If your memory is good, you may recall my confusion concerning two very similar species of dragonflies, Flame and Neon Skimmers. I coincidentally found my first Neon Skimmer just a day or two after posting photos of a skimmer I believed was a Neon Skimmer, but was actually a Flame Skimmer. Well, I thought I had already learned how to distinguish the two species, but today I was lucky enough to learn more about these two species by seeing both… within inches of each other!

I was searching for dragonflies along the lushly vegetated creek at Santiago Oaks Regional Park this afternoon when I spotted two brilliant reddish-orange dragonflies perched on the same stick near the stream. Inspection revealed one to be a Flame Skimmer, and the other a Neon Skimmer! Direct comparison of the two species allowed me to discover more identification techniques for these two dragonflies.

The most dependable difference between the two species is the extent of orange on the wings. Flame Skimmers have orange covering more than half of their wings, while Neon Skimmers show only a small amount of orange at the base of their wings. This is clearly evident in the photos. Another reliable identification characteristic is the color of the abdomen. Flame Skimmers appear bright enough to the uninitiated, but Neon Skimmers really knock your socks off. Their abdomens glow! Neon Skimmers appear much redder than Flame Skimmers.

In addition to these two classic field marks, I noticed a couple subtle differences between the two species when seen together. First of all, the Neon Skimmer had a slightly shorter and thicker abdomen than the Flame Skimmer. Second, the Flame Skimmer appeared to have slightly longer wings than the Neon Skimmer. Of course, these characteristics would be very difficult to ascertain on solitary skimmers, but when seen together, they might be helpful.

Oh, I forgot to mention which skimmer was which in the photos. I’ll let you figure it out.