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The male's chunky white body (about 5 cm long), combined with the brownish-black bands on its otherwise translucent wings, give it a checkered look. Females have a brown body and a different pattern of wing spots, closely resembling that of female Libellula pulchella, the Twelve-spotted Skimmer. Whitetail females can be distinguished by their smaller size, shorter bodies, and white zigzag abdominal stripes.
The Common Whitetail can be seen hawking for mosquitoes and other small flying insects over ponds, marshes, and slow-moving rivers in most regions except the higher mountain regions. Periods of activity vary between regions.