Portia Widow (Palpopleura portia)

The photo above (by Luelle Watts) can be viewed in OdonataMAP here.

Find this species in the FBIS database (Freshwater Biodiversity Information System) here.

Family Libellulidae

Palpopleura portia PORTIA WIDOW


Small size

Length up to 31mm; Wingspan attains 47mm.

Both sexes most resemble Palpopleura lucia (Lucia Widow). Males are readily differentiated from that species by having a pale pruinose blue upper thorax. In addition males show significantly less black in the wings.

Telling the females of the two species apart is more difficult. Those of Palpopleura portia generally show less black in the wings and lack the smoky shadow area in the lower part of the hind wings.

Click here for more details on identification.

Palpopleura portia – Male
Mkuze River, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Ryan Tippett
Palpopleura portia – Female
Near White River, Mpumalanga
Photo by Gert Bensch


Palpopleura portia Occupies a wide range of habitats, but prefers still water habitats over flowing waters. Most common at the grass and sedge fringes of lakes, ponds, pans and marshes. Less frequent at rivers and streams, where it prefers the slower moving stretches and quiet back waters. Sometimes found at man-made habitats like dams and ponds. Largely restricted to hot and humid savanna regions.

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


Portia Widows are perch hunters and spend as much time perched as they do darting off to intercept prey, or to chase off a rival. They like to sit in open, sunny positions, typically with the wings drooped forward in the ‘dropwing’ style.

On the wing from October to May, but flies year-round in some warmer areas.

Status and Conservation

Fairly common. Listed as of Least Concern in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. A fairly adaptable species that does make use of degraded or man-made habitats.


Widespread throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and absent only from the driest regions of North-East Africa and the arid and semi-arid regions of Southern Africa.

Below is a map showing the distribution of records for Portia Widow 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.