Saddlebags

by Carl Strang

I have been seeing unusual numbers of red-bodied saddlebags dragonflies this season. They aren’t exactly swarming, but it seems that every time I go around Mayslake Forest Preserve I see at least one. Saddlebags are a group of relatively large dragonflies in the skimmer family that have patches of color on the bases of their hindwings. Our common one in northeast Illinois is the black saddlebags.

Our least common species, which is a rare wanderer from the Gulf Coast, is the striped saddlebags.

It has a red abdomen, but note the characteristic white stripes on the thorax. I photographed this one in 2004 close to the Des Plaines River. It must have followed the Mississippi River from Texas, then the Illinois River to the Des Plaines to reach northeastern Illinois.

There are two other red-bodied saddlebags we are more likely to see. Not long ago I shared a photo of one at Mayslake, repeated here.

I am not familiar enough with the two species to identify them in flight. This may be a Carolina saddlebags or a red saddlebags. Last week, however, I got a rare opportunity to examine one close up.

This insect was fluttering in the Willowbrook Wildlife Center parking lot, apparently having been caught on the front of a car. At first I was going to call it a red saddlebags, because of the dull red color and the small black spots on the tip of the abdomen. However, the ovipositor on the underside of that tip reveals that this individual is a female. Females can be dull colored relative to males. According to my references the colored area of the wing is much larger in the Carolina saddlebags, matching the extent on this individual. The deciding factor, however, is the forehead.

The forehead is the triangular area between the large squarish tan face and the eyes. There is a dark purple line across the lower half of the forehead on this dragonfly, which in the female marks it as a Carolina saddlebags.

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