Black-tailed Skimmer – Orthetrum cancellatum

European common name: Black-tailed Skimmer

The Black-tailed Skimmer – Orthetrum cancellatum, is a very fast and active flyer.


LibellulidaeChasers, Skimmers, & Darters

Mid-sized dragonfly, a highly active and fast flyer.

Mature males are striking in appearance, having a broad, flattened abdomen tapering to the tip and covered in a pale blue pruinescence. Beneath the blue pruinosity, yellow spots may be visible on the lateral surface of the abdomen. The tip of the abdomen remains dark, giving it its common name.

Females and immature males are yellow, with dark markings forming two lines down the length of the abdomen either side of the centre line. Darkened areas at the join of each segment give it a ladder-like appearance.

Male and female have obviously green eyes.

At rest, wings are often swept forward and downward. The costa are yellow, and pterostigma are dark.

Overall length: 44 – 50 mm
Wings: 35 – 40 mm

There are several Skimmer and Chaser species that might be confused with the Black-tailed Skimmer.

  • Broad-bodied Chaser – Libellula depressa
    The Broad-bodied Chaser is noticeably broader and more flattened in appearance, and features prominent basal wing patches. The male abdomen has a much reduced black tip, and the female is generally darker and browner in colour and lacks the prominent black markings of the Black-tailed Skimmer.
  • Scarce Chaser – Libellula fulva
    The Scarce Chaser is smaller, the wings have dark costa rather than yellow, and the hindwing features a dark basal patch. The male is more slender and lacks the yellow abdominal spots of the Black-tailed Skimmer. The female is darker and browner in colour and lacks the prominent black markings of the Black-tailed Skimmer.
  • Keeled Skimmer – Orthetrum coerulescens
    The male is more slender, and its abdomen lacks the yellow spots and black tip of the Black-tailed Skimmer. Females are more alike, but the Keeled Skimmer is slimmer and has obvious shoulder stripes and yellow pterostigma.

Prefers still water sites with clear banks, but also seen along rivers. Quick to visit new sites. Males can often be seen basking on light coloured rocks or pathways.

Common throughout the county and may be seen at still water sites such as Felmersham NR, Priory CP, Broom GP, Wrest Park, Marston Thrift, Willington, and also along stretches of the River Great Ouse, River Flit and River Ivel. 

I’ve often spotted them along the Biddenham Country Loop Walk as they bask on the pathway, and at the boating lake in Bedford.

Visible from late May to early September, peaking in June and July.

Black-tailed Skimmer - Orthetrum cancellatum Male, Felmersham NR.
Male Black-tailed Skimmer – Orthetrum cancellatum
Black-tailed Skimmer - Orthetrum cancellatum Female, Felmersham NR.
Female Black-tailed Skimmer – Orthetrum cancellatum

External links for Black-tailed Skimmer – Orthetrum cancellatum:
British Dragonfly Society | Wikipedia