Sickle Spreadwing (Lestes uncifer)

View the above photo record (by John Wilkinson) in OdonataMAP here.

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

Family Lestidae



Medium-large size

Length up to 48mm; Wingspan reaches 51mm.

Easily recognised and unlike any other spreadwing in the region. The large size, green, turquoise and brown colouration is distinctive. In males the obviously hooked, white claspers are diagnostic.

Females are similar to males but are duller and lack the distinctive white, hooked claspers.

Click here for more details on identification.

Lestes uncifer – Male
Near Hluhluwe, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Ryan Tippett


It occurs at ponds, pools and swamps, usually in humid, well wooded or forested areas. Prefers habitat with tall grass and sedges, usually surrounded by dense bush.

Habitat – Near Hluhluwe, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Ryan Tippett


Spends long periods hanging vertically from tall emergent plant stems. They are well camouflaged and are a shy and weary species that retreats into thick vegetation when disturbed. Females occur in the same vicinity as the males.

Most active from late November to June, possibly all year at some sites. See Phenology below.

Status and Conservation

Lestes uncifer is an uncommon and very localised species. In South Africa it is listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This is due to its scarcity and marginal occurrence in the country. It has a wider distribution in tropical Africa and is therefore considered of Least Concern over the rest of its range. The Sickle Spreadwing is fairly sensitive to habitat degredation and is mostly found in undisturbed places. In some areas it will make use of small man-made ponds and dams, provided they offer good quality habitat.


It is native to much of the southern and eastern parts of Africa, where it is widespread. It ranges from South Africa up to Kenya and Uganda in the north.

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