Black-tailed skimmer

Orthetrum cancellatum


The black-tailed skimmer is a medium-sized, straight-sided, fairly narrow-bodied dragonfly. It is on the wing from the end of May to August and is commonly found in flooded gravel pits and reservoirs, where it flies low over the water before landing on the bare shore to rest in the sun. The larvae of black-tailed skimmers can take two to three years to mature. Once they emerge from the water, they may travel some distance over land to find a suitable site to undergo metamorphosis. After mating, mature females lay their eggs by hovering over the water, dipping the tip of their abdomen in and dropping their eggs on to vegetation below the surface.

How to identify

The male black-tailed skimmer has a grey thorax and a powder-blue abdomen with yellow spots along the sides and a black tip. The female is yellowy-brown with two black stripes running the length of the body. There are several medium-sized, pale blue dragonflies that can be confused. This species can be distinguished from the others by its narrow abdomen with black tip and yellow spots along the side. Its behaviour, flying low over bare gravel and mud, is also characteristic.

Where to find it

Southern and central England and South Wales.

When to find it

  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August

How can people help

Black-tailed skimmers are regularly seen on man-made waterbodies including lakes, flooded gravel pits and reservoirs. The Wildlife Trusts work with planners, water companies and landowners to help make our man-made waterways and waterbodies as good for wildlife as they are for people. By working together, we can create a 'Living Landscape': a network of habitats stretching across town and country, allowing wildlife to move about freely and people to enjoy the benefits of nature. Support this greener vision for the future by joining your local Wildlife Trust.

Species information

Common name
Black-tailed skimmer
Latin name
Orthetrum cancellatum
Dragonflies and damselflies
Length: 4.4-4.9cm
Conservation status