Glistening Demoiselle (Phaon iridipennis)

View the above photo record (by Andries de Vries) in OdonataMAP here.

Find the Glistening Demoiselle in the FBIS database (Freshwater Biodiversity Information System) here.

Family Calopterygidae



Very large. This is the largest species of damselfly in Southern Africa.

Length reaches 75mm; Wingspan attains 87mm

An unmistakable species in South Africa. Both sexes show iridescent purple-blue sparkles in the wings, if seen in the right light. Females are slightly browner and less colourful than the males.

Click here for more details on identification.

Phaon iridipennis – Kosi Bay, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Ryan Tippett
Phaon iridipennis – Mabibi, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Ryan Tippett


This is a species of forests and dense woodlands. Along the East coast of South Africa it occupies coastal, dune and swamp forests. Further inland it inhabits gallery forest and woodlands along savanna rivers as well as the forested verges of pans and marshes. The Glistening Demoiselle is shade dependent and is seldom seen away from cover.

Habitat – Gallery woodland along the Pongola River, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Ryan Tippett
Habitat – Forest lined pan in Savanna – Mkuze Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Ryan Tippett


Typically found low down in dense, shady undergrowth, mostly within about two meters above the ground. Frequently perches on sticks and logs among the leaf litter. The wings are folded at rest and held at a 45 degree angle while the abdomen is slightly raised. It is very cryptic when perched, but conspicuous in flight due to its iridescent wings and large size. At water it perches low down on rocks and overhanging sticks. Frequently found far from water in forest undergrowth and along pathways, particularly late in the season.

Recorded all year round in the warmer regions. Most active from October to March with a peak during late November (See Phenology below).

Status and Conservation

Phaon iridipennis is locally common. It is listed as of least concern in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Fairly resistant to habitat degredation, including water turbidity and tolerant of at least some alien plant growth.


Widespread across tropical Africa. It extends from the Eastern Cape in the South, up through the Eastern parts of Southern Africa and throughout most of East, Central and West Africa. It also occurs on Madagascar.

Below is a map showing the distribution of records for Glistening Demoiselle 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.