Dragonfly Guide


Newman, 1833

Sympetrum is a genus of small to medium-sized skimmer dragonflies, known as darters in the UK and as meadowhawks in North America. The more than 50 species predominantly live in the temperate zone of the Northern Hemisphere. Most Sympetrum fly in late summer and autumn, breeding in ponds and foraging over meadows.


Rather small libellulids. Mature males, with the exception of a black species, have an abdomen which is a shade of red. Black markings are variable, but usually at least present as traces on the thorax sutures, legs and abdomen. Hindwing base is clear or marked with yellow or amber.

Separation from other genera

The only smaller libellulids without a dark hindwing patch and often a red abdomen in much of our range. Crocothemis legs lack any black and the abdomen is broader (only some Turkish Sympetrum have almost no black on their legs). Red Trithemis are similar in stature but mature males have a much brighter appearance. Brachythemis has a plump, cylindrical abdomen.

Separation of the species

A large and often common genus. Many species can cause identification problems, especially when observing with binoculars only. In most areas, the difficulty will focus on the pair S. striolatum - S. vulgatum, but along the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts in particular up to four similar species may overlap. These vary in the extent of the black markings, and this has led to taxonomic problems.


All darters behave similarly. They spend most of their time on a prominent perch, from which short dashes are undertaken to chase prey or rivals. Males often attain high densities along the water's edge, defending a small 'private space' around themselves rather than a territory. Oviposition always commences in tandem, but species differ somewhat in their mode of flight and choice of oviposition site.


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Distribution map. Data from gbif.org


  • Field guide to the dragonflies of Britain and Europe, Klaas-Douwe B Dijkstra.