Smoky Spreadwing (Lestes virgatus)

View the above photo record (by Rob Dickinson) in OdonataMAP here.

Find the Smoky Spreadwing in the FBIS (Freshwater Biodiversity Information System) here.

Family Lestidae

Lestes virgatus SMOKY SPREADWING


Medium sized

Length up to 49mm; Wingspan attains 58mm.

Most resembles Lestes plagiatus (Highland Spreadwing). The Smoky Spreadwing can be differentiated from other Spreadwings by the bronze-green thorax stripes, swollen pterostigmas with dark outlines and smoky yellow wings.

Females are similar but are duller. They have more robust abdomens than the males, and lack the pruinose terminal segments and the distinctive claspers.

Could be confused with a Malachite (Chlorolestes spp.), but can be immediately recognised by its Blue eyes (Malachites have green or brownish eyes), and pale centered pterostigmas.

Click here for more details on identification.

Lestes virgatus – Male
iSimangaliso Wetland Park, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Ryan Tippett


It occurs at well vegetated pans, pools and swamps with forested or wooded fringes. Favours ponds with rich vegetation particularly tall grasses and forbs. Frequents areas of high rainfall above 700mm per year.

Habitat – Well vegetated pond with well wooded fringes.
Near Hluhluwe, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Ryan Tippett


Hangs vertically from a grass or reed stem when at rest. Spends long periods perched and is generally sluggish and unwilling to fly. The females can be found alongside the males.

Most active from late September to May, but flies all year at some sites (See Phenology below).

Status and Conservation

Lestes virgatus is locally common over most of its range. It is listed as of Least Concern in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Smoky Spreadwing is moderately sensitive to habitat degradation and commonly occurs at suitable man-made habitats.


It is native to much of Southern and Eastern Africa, where it is widespread. It extends from Ethiopia in the north down South Africa. There is also a seemingly isolated population in Nigeria.

Below is a map showing the distribution of records for Smoky Spreadwing in the OdonataMAP database as at February 2020.

The next map below is an imputed map, produced by an interpolation algorithm, which attempts to generate a full distribution map from the partial information in the map above. This map will be improved by the submission of records to the OdonataMAP section of the Virtual Museum.

Ultimately we will produce a series of maps for all the odonata species in the region. The current algorithm is a new algorithm. The objective is mainly to produce “smoothed” maps that could go into a field guide for odonata. This basic version of the algorithm (as mapped above) does not make use of “explanatory variables” (e.g. altitude, terrain roughness, presence of freshwater — we will be producing maps that take these variables into account soon). Currently, it only makes use of the OdonataMAP records for the species being mapped, as well as all the other records of all other species. The basic maps are “optimistic” and will generally show ranges to be larger than what they probably are.

These maps use the data in the OdonataMAP section of the Virtual Museum, and also the database assembled by the previous JRS funded project, which was led by Professor Michael Samways and Dr KD Dijkstra.

OdonataMAP record by Jean Hirons:


Dragonfly Atlas: Megan Loftie-Eaton, Sally Hofmeyr, Ryan Tippett & Les Underhill
Dragonfly Atlas: Megan Loftie-Eaton, Sally Hofmeyr, Ryan Tippett & Les Underhill
Megan Loftie-Eaton is our communications, social media and citizen science coordinator. Prior to her work for the BDI, she coordinated OdonataMAP, the Atlas of African Odonata. Sally Hofmeyr has many years' experience in the academic world, writing her own material and editing the work of others. Her academic background is in the natural sciences: her PhD and first postdoc in ornithology and environmental change (Animal Demography Unit, University of Cape Town). Ryan Tippett is an enthusiastic contributor to Citizen Science and has added many important and interesting records of fauna and flora. He has been a member of the VMU since 2014 and has currently submitted over 11000 records. He is also on the expert identification panel for the Odonata Map project. Prof Les Underhill has been Director of the Animal Demography Unit (ADU) at the University of Cape Town since it started in 1991. Although citizen science in biology is Les’s passion, his academic background is in mathematical statistics.