Cryptic Spreadwing (Lestes dissimulans)

View the above photo record (by Marita Beneke) in OdonataMAP here.

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

Family Lestidae

Lestes dissimulansCRYPTIC SPREADWING


Small size

Length up to 42mm; Wingspan reaches 50mm

Similar to Lestes tridens (Spotted Spreadwing) but differs in the structure of the claspers and the amount of pruinose blue on segments 9 and 10 on the abdomen. Lestes dissimulans also has plain or indistinct markings on the top of the thorax. Lestes tridens shows a bolder and more distinctive marking on the upper thorax.

Females of the two are very similar and best separated by their association with the males.

Click here for more details on identification.

Lestes dissimulans – Mabusa Nature Reserve, Mpumalanga
Photo by Niall Perrins


Frequents both perennial and seasonal still-water habitats. They prefer shallow areas of pans, dams and ponds with tall emergent or flooded grass. Inhabits hot savanna regions.


A fairly inactive species that spends long periods hanging vertically from emergent grass stems. The females are frequently seen alongside the males. Cryptic Spreadwings are easily overlooked. Their blue-grey colouration and slender bodies blend perfectly with the grass and glare from the water.

Most active from October to March. See Phenology below.

Status and Conservation

Lestes dissimulans is an uncommon and highly localised species in South Africa. It is listed locally as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The species is listed as of Least Concern for Africa in general due to its relatively wide distribution. It is not very tolerant of habitat degradation and is mostly found in pristine habitats.


Lestes dissimulans occurs from the far North of KwaZulu-Natal to Limpopo in South Africa and then widely through southern, East, Central and West Africa.

Below is a map showing the distribution of records for Cryptic 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.


Dragonfly Atlas: Megan Loftie-Eaton, Ryan Tippett, Rene Navarro & Les Underhill
Dragonfly Atlas: Megan Loftie-Eaton, Ryan Tippett, Rene Navarro & Les Underhill
Megan Loftie-Eaton is our communications, social media and citizen science projects coordinator. Prior to her work for the BDI, she coordinated OdonataMAP, the Atlas of African Odonata. 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 OdonataMAP project. Rene Navarro is the genius behind the Virtual Museum. 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.