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Black Tailed Skimmer

The Black Tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) is one of the more common dragonflies in Norfolk. Often the first to colonise a new site, they can be seen on most large ponds and lakes.

Picture of Mature Male Black Tailed Skimmer
Photo:A Brazil

Identification

Males can be confused with male Scarce and (if only seen in flight) Broad-bodied chasers, but these both have black "saddle-bags" on the lower pair of wings, and a clear view will clarify this latter confusion up rapidly - no other dragonfly has a body like the broad-bodied.

Male Keeled skimmers are difficult to tell apart, but only occur at a few sites in Norfolk. Look for the eye colour to distinguish these - black-tails have green, keeled have blue - as well as the lack of black on the tail of the keeled.

The females (and immature males like the photo below) can not really be confused with anything else, although when fully mature they are often quite grey - loosing the brilliant gold colour.

Black-tails will rapidly circle a small pond, zooming around like demented guided missiles, far too quick to track with binoculars, but a sure-fire clue to identity is their perching behaviour. Nothing likes the ground quite as much as a black-tailed skimmer. If you see a medium sized dragonfly rise up from a patch of dry earth in front of you, it is almost certainly a skimmer (although common darter's also rest on the ground - but they are a smaller and less substantial insect). Chaser's on the other hand always perch on vegetation, usually near the top.

Picture of Immature Black Tailed Skimmer
Photo:A Brazil

A good place to see black-tails is at Whitlingham, where up to 20 males defend territories, or the fisherman's platforms at UEA, which frequently harbour a basking insect, but they have also been recorded from these sites:

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