Little Wisp (Agriocnemis exilis)

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

Find the Little Wisp in the FBIS database (Freshwater Biodiversity Information System) here.

Family Coenagrionidae

Agriocnemis exilisLITTLE WISP


Very small size

Length up to 20mm; Wingspan attains 27mm.

Most like Agriocnemis pinheyi (Pinhey’s Wisp). They are similar in size, and are in fact the two smallest damselflies in the region. Pinhey’s Wisp has an unbroken green line across the face and an incomplete green line across the prothorax. The Little Wisp shows the exact opposite, having a broken green moustache and an unbroken green line on the prothorax.

Females are variable and best told by their association with the males.

Click here for more details on identification.

Agriocnemis exilis – Male
Selinda, Botswana
Photo by Ryan Tippett


Inhabits dense grass and sedge margins of pools, dams, marshes and floodplains, as well as the fringes of slow moving streams. Generally found at lower altitudes than Agriocnemis pinheyi.

Habitat – Near Kosi Bay, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Ryan Tippett


Usually perches near vertically on a sedge or grass stem. Typically low down close to the water. Unobtrusive and easily overlooked.

On the wing from November to March (see Phenology below).

Status and Conservation

Fairly common but localised. Listed as of Least Concern in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.


Widespread throughout most of Sub-Saharan Africa.

In South Africa it is restricted to the North-East, where it ranges from Limpopo down to coastal NE KwaZulu-Natal.

Below is a map showing the distribution of records for Little Wisp 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.