Dragonfly Guide

Sympetrum fonscolombii

(Selys, 1840)

Red-veined darter

Sympetrum fonscolombii
Sympetrum fonscolombii, male
Photo: Göran LiljebergCreative Commons CCCreative Commons BY


One of the largest of the darters. The male's gaudy appearance and active behaviour is quite different from its more restful and subdued gogeners.

The wing veins are red in the mature males and yellow in immature and female individuals (beware as other Sympetrum species can also have pale or reddish veins). At the base of the hind wing is a yellow-orange patch which is larger than in other Sympetrum sp. but smaller compared to S. flaveolum. The pterostigma is light yellow brown in colour and bordered with black. Legs are black with yellow stripes. The eye is characteristically reddish brown on the upper part and grey light blue in the bottom part. Mature males have a red frons and the abdomen brick red. Immature males and females are yellow brown. Thorax side of the mature males often with a bluish-white dash below the wing base.

Females of this species can be confused with females of other darters, especially S. flaveolum, but the colour in the eye and the shape of the vulvar scale, with a deep U-shaped indentation, allows them to be identified with certainty.

Often confused with Crocothemis erythraea because the bluish underside of the eye, yellow hind wing base, red colouration and active behaviour. That species is much broader-bodied and has no black on the face or legs.

Sympetrum sinaiticum has bluish underside of the eyes, but is duller overall, typically with a black bar on each side of S2-S3.


A strong migrant, erratic influxes are often seen in northern Europe in early summer, when other Sympetrum are only beginning to emerge. A swift red dragonfly seen there in May or June is therefore likely to be of this species.

Males are very territorial and spend more time patrolling over water than perching. If it does perch it does so out in the water from a suitable vantage point. It is a strong flyer and can fly far out over water but occasionally stops and hovers. Other males are chased away, even other species. It can be hard to come near when patrolling further out over the water.

Tenerals are found where other dragonflies hunt. Migrants can be found just about everywhere, but most often near coastlines and even directly on the beach.

Larval development is quick and even in the northern parts of its range it can emerge the same summer, should the summer be good enough. Exuviae are found on straws near the shoreline or directly on the ground a bit away from the water.


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Distribution map. Data from gbif.org

Sympetrum fonscolombii is widespread and common in most of Africa, the Middle East, the Indian Peninsula and Central Asia. It is a habitual wanderer and has colonised the Canary Islands, Madeira and the Azores. In eastern mainland Asia, records are known from several widely scattered localities although its status in these regions is unclear as breeding details are lacking. There are numerous records from Japan, all regarded as vagrants from mainland Asia.

In Europe it is one of the most common and abundant species in the Mediterranean. Its abundance decreases to the north although it is far from being rare in most of western and central Europe. In the northern part of its range the species shows strongly yearly fluctuations, being especially common in years where spring immigration from the south is followed by a warm summer enabling local breeding.


Sympetrum fonscolombii reproduces mostly at sunny, shallow standing waters and more rarely at slow-flowing stretches of rivers. In the Mediterranean it is especially abundant in coastal brackish wetlands and lagoons, rice fields and man-made barrage lakes. Successful breeding can also occur at bare, warm and shallow flooded quarries, sand pits, dune ponds, newly created ponds, depressions in bogs or recently flooded meadows. Newly created waters are readily colonised and are, especially in the north, an important habitat where the species can reach high numbers within a few years. Population size often drops when the vegetation becomes lusher. Sympetrum fonscolombii is mainly a lowland species but vagrants have been regularly encountered at high in the mountains, although reproduction at high altitudes outside the Mediterranean is rare.


  • Atlas of the European Dragonflies and Damselflies, Jean-Pierre Boudot(Editor), Vincent J Kalkman(Editor), Fons Peels(Illustrator)

  • Dragonflies and Damselflies of Europe: A scientific approach to the identification of European Odonata without capture, Galliani, C.; Scherini, R.; Piglia, A.

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

  • Nordens trollsländor, M. Billqvist, D. Andersson, C. Bergendorff