Sussex Dragonfly Group

Black-tailed Skimmer
Orthetrum cancellatum (Linnaeus, 1758)
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Suborder: Anisoptera
Family: Libellulidae

Black-tailed Skimmer
Orthetrum cancellatum

Suborder: Anisoptera
Family: Libellulidae

The skimmers are similar to the chasers, but less broad in the abdomen and with completely clear wings. This species prefers still water and has undoubtedly extended its range thanks to the increase in the number of flooded gravel pits. It is a fast, low-flying insect but, between bursts of activity defending territory or catching food, spends time resting on a regular perch, usually a stick or bare ground. Males have a grey-brown thorax and a powder-blue abdomen with a black tip and yellow-orange, elongated spots on the sides. Females (and immature males) are yellowish-brown with black, curved bracket-shaped markings on either side of the abdomen. There are some pronounced changes with age, the male often bearing black scratch marks where the female’s legs have grasped the abdomen during mating and the female turning to a tawny-brown or bluish-grey colour.

Orthetrum cancellatum
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old female
Photo: David Sadler
Orthetrum cancellatum
2 / 7
immature male
Photo: David Sadler
Orthetrum cancellatum
3 / 7
young male
Photo: Simon Linington
Orthetrum cancellatum
4 / 7
ovipositing female
Photo: David Sadler
Orthetrum cancellatum
5 / 7
teneral female
Photo: David Sadler
Orthetrum cancellatum
6 / 7
male
Photo: David Sadler
Orthetrum cancellatum
7 / 7
male
Photo: Simon Linington

More images

National status
Fairly common in southern England and parts of Wales. Extending its range significantly northwards into the Midlands and beyond.

Status in Sussex
Locally common across the whole of the county. Possibly under-recorded as there are a number of suitable sites where it has not been recorded, exemplified by the patchy distribution across the Low Weald. The reduction in records from Pevensey Levels (as with other species) during the decade up to 2020 probably reflects reduced coverage. The species seems to be consolidating its position in the far east of the county though again, this may relate to coverage.

Distribution at 1km scale

Orthetrum cancellatum distribution (all)
Orthetrum cancellatum distribution pre 1980
Orthetrum cancellatum distribution 1980 - 1989
Orthetrum cancellatum distribution 1990 - 1999
Orthetrum cancellatum distribution 2000 - 2009
Orthetrum cancellatum distribution 2010 - 2019
Orthetrum cancellatum distribution 2010 on

Historical records
Despite its now reasonable county-wide distribution, this species was barely recorded in East Sussex until 1935 (Dannreuther 1939). Although Chelmick (1979) stated that it was not recorded from West Sussex before the 1965 - 1978 survey, there does appear to have been a pre-1900 record from near Liphook, reported by Lucas (1900). As in the survey for The Dragonflies of Sussex (2004), Chelmick (1979) considered it to be widespread but local over the county.

Flight times
Mid May - mid August. There is an indication that the flight time for this species has lengthened in recent decades.

Phenology (adult)

Orthetrum cancellatum phenology (all)
Orthetrum cancellatum phenology pre 1980
Orthetrum cancellatum phenology 1980 - 1989
Orthetrum cancellatum phenology 1990 - 1999
Orthetrum cancellatum phenology 2000 - 2009
Orthetrum cancellatum phenology 2010 - 2019
Orthetrum cancellatum phenology 2010 on
Orthetrum cancellatum habitat
1 / 1
Black tailed Skimmer habitat at Wakehurst Place reedswamp
Photo: Simon Linington

Habitat
Large, shallow open ponds, lakes, gravel pits and occasionally slow-moving rivers, adjacent ditches and small ponds. Liking for bare ground at the waterside where the males can sun themselves.

Conservation
The conversion of exhausted gravel pits into lakes has been a conservation success in terms of expansion in the range of this species. It is important to ensure these sites are well managed and not neglected to scrub over.

Similar species
See Scarce Chaser for discussion on the identification of this species from the Chasers and from Keeled Skimmer (a photographic comparison is provided).

The skimmers are similar to the chasers, but less broad in the abdomen and with completely clear wings. This species prefers still water and has undoubtedly extended its range thanks to the increase in the number of flooded gravel pits. It is a fast, low-flying insect but, between bursts of activity defending territory or catching food, spends time resting on a regular perch, usually a stick or bare ground. Males have a grey-brown thorax and a powder-blue abdomen with a black tip and yellow-orange, elongated spots on the sides. Females (and immature males) are yellowish-brown with black, curved bracket-shaped markings on either side of the abdomen. There are some pronounced changes with age, the male often bearing black scratch marks where the female’s legs have grasped the abdomen during mating and the female turning to a tawny-brown or bluish-grey colour.

Orthetrum cancellatum
1 / 7
old female
Photo: David Sadler
Orthetrum cancellatum
2 / 7
immature male
Photo: David Sadler
Orthetrum cancellatum
3 / 7
young male
Photo: Simon Linington
Orthetrum cancellatum
4 / 7
ovipositing female
Photo: David Sadler
Orthetrum cancellatum
5 / 7
teneral female
Photo: David Sadler
Orthetrum cancellatum
6 / 7
male
Photo: David Sadler
Orthetrum cancellatum
7 / 7
male
Photo: Simon Linington

National status
Fairly common in southern England and parts of Wales. Extending its range significantly northwards into the Midlands and beyond.

Status in Sussex
Locally common across the whole of the county. Possibly under-recorded as there are a number of suitable sites where it has not been recorded, exemplified by the patchy distribution across the Low Weald. The reduction in records from Pevensey Levels (as with other species) during the decade up to 2020 probably reflects reduced coverage. The species seems to be consolidating its position in the far east of the county though again, this may relate to coverage.

Distribution at 1km scale

Orthetrum cancellatum distribution (all)
Orthetrum cancellatum distribution bre 1980
Orthetrum cancellatum distribution 1980 - 1989
Orthetrum cancellatum distribution 1990 - 1999
Orthetrum cancellatum distribution 2000 - 2009
Orthetrum cancellatum distribution 2010 - 2019
Orthetrum cancellatum distribution 2020 on

Historical records
Despite its now reasonable county-wide distribution, this species was barely recorded in East Sussex until 1935 (Dannreuther 1939). Although Chelmick (1979) stated that it was not recorded from West Sussex before the 1965 - 1978 survey, there does appear to have been a pre-1900 record from near Liphook, reported by Lucas (1900). As in the survey for The Dragonflies of Sussex (2004), Chelmick (1979) considered it to be widespread but local over the county.

Flight times
Mid May - mid August. There is an indication that the flight time for this species has lengthened in recent decades.

Phenology (adult)

Orthetrum cancellatum phenology (all)
Orthetrum cancellatum phenology pre 1980
Orthetrum cancellatum phenology 1980 - 1989
Orthetrum cancellatum phenology 1990 - 1999
Orthetrum cancellatum phenology 2000 - 2009
Orthetrum cancellatum phenology 2010 - 2019
Orthetrum cancellatum phenology 2020 on
Orthetrum cancellatum habitat
1 / 1
Black tailed Skimmer habitat at Wakehurst Place reedswamp
Photo: Simon Linington

Habitat
Large, shallow open ponds, lakes, gravel pits and occasionally slow-moving rivers, adjacent ditches and small ponds. Liking for bare ground at the waterside where the males can sun themselves.

Conservation
The conversion of exhausted gravel pits into lakes has been a conservation success in terms of expansion in the range of this species. It is important to ensure these sites are well managed and not neglected to scrub over.

Similar species
See Scarce Chaser for discussion on the identification of this species from the Chasers and from Keeled Skimmer (a photographic comparison is provided).