Tawny Spreadwing (Lestes ictericus)

View the above photo record (by Bertie Brink) in OdonataMAP here.

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

Family Lestidae

Lestes ictericusTAWNY SPREADWING


Small size

Length up to 38mm.

Very similar to the common pale brown form of Lestes pallidus (Pallid Spreadwing). The Tawny Spreadwing is told apart by having broad, rounded wing tips, plain brownish (not bi-coloured) pterostigmas, and in males by the differently shaped claspers that lack inner teeth.

Females closely resemble the males but lack the distinctive claspers.

Click here for more details on identification.

Lestes ictericus – Lusaka Province, Zambia
Photo by Norman Barrett


A tropical savanna species. It lives near seasonal pools and pans, especially where there is shallowly flooded grass. Occupies similar habitats to Lestes pallidus but seems to prefer more humid savannas.


Usually found at water where it sits on grass stems with wings outstretched.

In South Africa it has been recorded during March and April. See Phenology below.

Status and Conservation

Rare in South Africa. Listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.


It is native to the wetter savanna regions of Sub-Saharan Africa. Lestes ictericus is marginal in South Africa where it is only recorded from extreme NE KwaZulu-Natal.

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