Common Whitetail Dragonfly - Plathemis lydia
Order Odonata / Suborder Anisoptera
/ Family Libellulidae -- common skimmers, libellulidés
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Live adult dragonflies photographed in the wild at Winfield, Illinois, USA

Freshly-minted whitetail is not yet completely pruinose

The common whitetail dragonfly gets its common name from the white waxy coating that develops on the wings and abdomen of the mature male. This is a fairly large dragonfly with a wingspan of 13-15mm. 

Dragonflies have excellent eyesight. Their compound eyes have up to 30,000 facets, each of which is a separate light-sensing organ or ommatidium, arranged to give nearly a 360° field of vision. Odonates are completely harmless - they do not sting or bite. Indeed, they are beneficial in the same respect spiders and other predators are beneficial - they keep the burgeoning insect population in check. Many of these species prey on each other; I often see dragonflies devouring damselflies.

Dragonflies are among the most ancient of living creatures. Fossil records, clearly recognizable as the ancestors of our present day odonates, go back to Carboniferous times which means that the insects were flying more than 300 million years ago, predating dinosaurs by over 100 million years and birds by some 150 million.

Common Whitetail Dragonfly - Libellula lydia
Females have different wing markings and do not display the white tail of the mature male.
Much larger dragonfly species existed in the distant past than occur on earth today. The largest, found as a fossil, is an extinct Protodonata named Meganeura monyi from the Permian period, with a wingspan of 70-75 cm (27.5-29.5 in). This compares to 19 cm (7.5 in) for the largest modern species of odonates, the Hawaiian endemic dragonfly, Anax strenuus. The smallest modern species recorded is the libellulid dragonfly, Nannophya pygmaea from east Asia with a wingspan of only 20 mm, or about ¾ of an inch.

Dragonflies are the world's fastest insects and, although estimates of their speed vary wildly, most credible authorities say they are capable of reaching speeds of between 30 and 60 km/h (19 to 38 mph). A study showed that dragonflies can travel as much as 85 miles in one day.
Common Whitetail Dragonfly - Libellula lydia
Mature Male Whitetail displays namesake white waxy coating on his wings and abdomen
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Order Odonata: dragonflies and damselflies date back 300 million years, to the Carboniferous Period of the Paleozoic Era. These colorful, enchanting insects are revered second only to the butterflies in the popular psyche. Explore detailed close-up photographs of live, adult dragonflies and damselflies photographed in the wild.
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