Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Widow skimmer dragonfly

with 31 comments

From August 22nd in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 comes a widow skimmer dragonfly, Libellula luctuosa. To be clear, this insect doesn’t skim widows. Rather it’s a kind of dragonfly called a skimmer, and the brown color on its wings fancifully reminded someone of a widow’s dark garb. I’d have preferred a less busy background (wouldn’t you?). Sometimes we have to take what comes our way.

◊          ◊

Here’s an update regarding an incident I linked to in my July 15th post. Women at the Wi Spa in Los Angeles were upset one day in June when a 6’2″, 200-lb., anatomically intact man who claims to identify as a woman walked around naked in the women’s locker room. An Instagram video in which one of the women complained vigorously to a staff member at the spa went viral, and that set off weeks of protesting and counter-protesting that at times turned violent. During those weeks many activists and media outlets vilified the woman who had complained. Some sources went so far as to claim there was no evidence the incident had happened, and to suggest that the video was a transphobic hoax.

Then on September 2nd investigative reporter Andy Ngo revealed in a New York Post story that on August 30th “charges of indecent exposure were discreetly filed against a serial sex offender for the Wi Spa incident, following an investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department.” Turns out that the anatomically intact man in question, Darren Agee Merager, had “two prior convictions [not just charges] of indecent exposure stemming from incidents in 2002 and 2003 in California.” Merager “is also facing six felony counts of indecent exposure over a separate locker room incident in December 2018. Los Angeles County prosecutors accuse Merager of indecent exposure to women and children in a changing area at a swimming pool in West Hollywood Park.” ‘Merager claims to identify as female so he can access women’s locker rooms and showers,’ reads an internal flyer by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department that was sent to law enforcement departments in southern California in late 2018.” Not only that, but Merager “also has a long criminal history in California that includes nearly a dozen felony convictions for crimes ranging from sex offenses to burglary and escape.”

While Merager’s transgressive behavior isn’t representative of transgender people in general, it does provide evidence to justify many women’s concerns that at least some men will claim to identify as women to gain access to women’s private spaces—something that transgender activists have long and stridently insisted wouldn’t happen.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 6, 2021 at 4:35 AM

31 Responses

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  1. Wow good read! new follower here.


    September 6, 2021 at 5:02 AM

  2. Excellent, all the fine details.


    September 6, 2021 at 6:32 AM

  3. I love the evenings here where the wings of the many dragonflies seem to catch glints of light from the setting sun over the pasture. I love the detail that you captured in the wings. I wonder what those dark bars are, on the upper tips of the wings? I can’t say I’ve noticed that before.


    September 6, 2021 at 7:25 AM

    • Actually I’d thought about mentioning those dark bars, each of which is called a pterostigma; in Greek that means literally ‘tattoo mark on a wing.’ Insects other than dragonflies also have pterostigmata [that’s the plural]. According to Wikipedia, “The purpose of the pterostigma, being a heavier section of the wing in comparison to nearby sections, is to assist in gliding. Without the pterostigmata, self-exciting vibrations known as flutter would set in on the wing after a certain critical speed, making gliding impossible. Tests show that with the pterostigmata, the critical gliding speed is increased 10–25% on one species of dragonfly.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2021 at 7:53 AM

      • It truly amazes me about the little details of every living thing. Thank you for that interesting explanation about the importance of the pterostigma. I assumed it had to do with some type of attraction feature in mating or camouflage perhaps. It makes me wonder how tests were conducted to have such understanding about insects like this. I find it all so fascinating!


        September 6, 2021 at 10:37 AM

        • I also wonder about how the test was conducted. Unfortunately for the subject(s), I assume entomologists tested dragonflies with their pterostigmata intact and then after those structures were removed and replaced with either nothing or with a structure akin to that of the main part of the wing.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 6, 2021 at 3:41 PM

  4. Beautiful dragon!!


    September 6, 2021 at 7:43 AM

  5. Beautiful image of that Skimmer!


    September 6, 2021 at 9:41 AM

  6. Great detail on the Widow Skimmer. Agree that a less busy background woulda coulda shoulda been better, but you might have gone into photoshop and layered it, blurring out the background or masking all but the dragonfly, but that might be considered going an adulteration too far in your mind.

    As for the second part of the story, I agree that “some” people will always try to game the system to their own aims. Instead of seeking a non-communal solution, most schools and businesses opt for the cheaper solution instead of providing individual restrooms/showers/changing rooms. The tragedy of the commons has been a long standing issue, as I understand it.

    Perhaps schools, etc., could do a thorough screening process by which people who truly identify with the opposite of their actual sex could either get counseling or permission to use the other sex’s facilities, within reason. And of course, bullying would have to be nipped in the bud, which seems unlikely to happen in the USA, for example.

    Personally, I don’t see any need for transgender surgery, but it seems that some folks have enough money to spend on it (Mr./Ms. Jenner, for example) while other folks in our country are trapped in a situation where they don’t have enough to afford to get out of it. Income inequality is a far bigger problem than gender equality at this point. But this is a blog about wildflowers, and the occasional wildlife portrait. I just learned this week that the Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) is the only one of its Genus known in Texas, after I had posted it on iNaturalist with a note that my first impression was Carolina Chickadee). You learn something new every day, one hopes.


    September 6, 2021 at 11:24 AM

    • I did subdue the background some, particularly by darkening the brightest places a little. As you noted, with some (or a lot of) work I could’ve gotten rid of it altogether.

      On the other matter, I feel a broader principle is in play: to what extent shall society as a whole rearrange itself to accommodate the wishes or claimed needs of a minority? If a minority comprises 40% of the population, most people would probably agree to an accommodation. If a minority comprises less than 1% of the population, as with transgenderism, many people will consider it unfair to have to make a big change to their way of life.

      My longtime motto has been Live and learn.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2021 at 3:34 PM

  7. This is a typical pose and you’ve captured it well. A male I believe.

    Steve Gingold

    September 6, 2021 at 2:11 PM

    • This angle let me keep the camera’s sensor approximately parallel to the dragonfly. Thanks for the tip about it being a male.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2021 at 3:36 PM

    • Thanks for that clarification of the sex of the skimmer. I had been wondering if widow skimmer would be an appropriate name for the male and I was considering the possibility of a widower skimmer. Then I also found this helpful reference from BugGuide: “The species name means sorrowful or mournful, perhaps because the wings of both male and female seem to be draped in mourning crepe”. Sorrowful sounds so much nicer to me than widow or widower, although I expect the skimmer is not the least bit sorrowful.


      September 6, 2021 at 8:33 PM

      • The species name luctuosa, from the Latin noun luctus that meant ‘sorrow, mourning, grief, affliction, distress, lamentation,’ reminds those of us who know some Spanish and Portuguese that the word luto in those languages means ‘mourning.’ I can’t speak for the sorrow of the skimmer in this photograph, but I wasn’t at all sorrowful to get a good picture of it.

        Steve Schwartzman

        September 7, 2021 at 7:24 AM

  8. I don’t mind the busy background. For me it helps to highlight the beauty of the skimmer dragonfly.


    September 6, 2021 at 8:37 PM

    • I’m sensitive to backgrounds and often find a picture-taking angle to make them relatively inconspicuous. You’re right, though, that regardless of the background in this photograph the dragonfly’s beauty skims through.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2021 at 9:12 PM

  9. Thanks for the update on your July 15th post. The update reminded me of old saying,” actions speak louder than words”. Reflecting on that saying I realised that I didn’t know its history. According to this site, the first iteration of the saying is recorded in the UK Hansard of 1628, during the English Civil War; another time of social and political upheaval. https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/actions-speak-louder-than-words.html Like you, I live and learn. One thing I have learned is that someone in society’s 1% can often be someone else’s 100%. I don’t happen to have a transgender person in my family but, if I did, I would want my transgender family member to have the same rights, opportunities, and responsibilities as my non-transgender family member.


    September 6, 2021 at 9:10 PM

    • I’m glad you reported on the “actions are more precious than words” that preceded the now-familiar “actions speak louder than words.”

      Earlier today I listened to a discussion in which one speaker made the case that what’s often at issue is a balancing of rights. This has come to the fore in athletics, where some female athletes are now saying it’s unfair for them to have to compete against—and often lose to—people who were born male, had their bodies develop as males, and still retain greater muscle mass and body strength even though they now claim to identify as female. How would you answer the girls and women making that complaint?

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2021 at 9:26 PM

      • I may be should not dare to answer them after the state of ignorance I found myself in over the scientist who named Kicking Horse River. Perhaps I could offer a meek “Don’t despair.”


        September 8, 2021 at 4:14 AM

  10. Beautifully captured! Sometimes we have to go with the background we’re given. 🙂 As to the second subject, individual changing rooms seem reasonable, if expensive.

    Ann Mackay

    September 7, 2021 at 4:26 AM

    • In the digital age we have some or even a lot of control over backgrounds. Another commenter suggested that I could have used software to remove the background entirely. Obviously I didn’t do that but I did even out its bright and dark areas somewhat.

      As for the second matter, yes, that’s one way out of the problem even if, as you said, it costs more.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 7, 2021 at 5:17 AM

  11. I would prefer a more complimentary name for this beauty of a dragonfly. Great capture, Steve!

    Peter Klopp

    September 7, 2021 at 9:12 AM

    • I’ll agree that “widow skimmer” isn’t a triumph of public relations. People have come up with lots of strange names for plants and animals.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 7, 2021 at 9:25 AM

  12. I think the dragonfly’s beautiful, and I rather like the name. As you’ve often said, context matters. We’ve moved so far away from certain grieving rituals that the appearance of the dragonfly doesn’t immediately bring to mind mourning veils, black drapes hung over portraits, and so on. I was reading a bit about mourning rituals, and came across this tidbit:

    “After the death of Queen Elizabeth’s father, George VI, the Queen rushed back to Britain from her visit to Kenya, and when the plane landed, a black dress had to be taken on board for her to change into. Because of this incident, now every royal reportedly travels with a black outfit in their luggage.”


    September 7, 2021 at 7:21 PM

    • That’s surprisingly familiar. A few days ago we watched Japanese director Yasujirō Ozu’s 1953 movie “Tokyo Story.” Toward the end of the film the mother in the family dies, and a daughter-in-law who was visiting from another city had to borrow mourning clothes.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 7, 2021 at 8:09 PM

  13. I don’t mind the busy background either … he’s a beauty


    September 11, 2021 at 3:41 PM

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