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Red Saddlebags Dragonfly
Tramea onusta
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Red Sanddlebags Dragonfly, photographed at Yamato Scrub Natural Area, Boca Raton, Palm Beach County, in August 2013.
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It doesn't take much imagination to figure out how the red saddlebags dragonfly, Tramea onusta, got it's name. It's red and it has saddlebag-shaped patches on its hind wings. Simple.

But it's not quite so simple. It's not always red, depending on age and gender, and there is at least one dragonfly look-alike to add a bit of confusion to the picture.

Red saddlebags are medium-sized as dragonflies go, with a body lingth between an inch-and-a-half and an inch-and-three-quarters. They have clear wings with red veins and the namesake patches on the hind wings. Males have a red face and body, while females are more orange-brown. Younger males have a brown face, turning red as they mature. The abdomen likewise is yellowish brown, turning red in mature males.

They are fast and agile flyers; males are territorial and fly over their turf, sometimes at great heights, to defend it. Habitats include ponds and lakes and slow-moving creeks and rivers but they can be found over nearby fields and meadows. Reds mate while perched in trees and shrubs; females deposit their eggs in water, usually on a mat of plants.

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After hatching, red saddlebag nymphs live in water, eating insects and other animals, before evolving into adults and venturing into the world above. Their lifespan: about a year.

Red saddlebags dragonflies are found in most of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains into southern Canada. They're also found in California as far north as the San Francisco Bay area, but become rarer farther north. The Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and northern Venezuela are part of their natural range. They're commonly found in Florida, but they do have a look-alike cousin also found in the Sunshine State: the Carolina saddlebags, which is also red. There is one fairly easy tell that separates the two: our guy has clear spots on the namesake red patches. The patches on the Carolina are solid.

Red saddlebags dragonflies are also known as red-mantled saddlebags. They are members of Libellulidae, the skimmer family and the largest family of dragonflies in the world.

Photographs by David Sedore
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Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.