Deceptive Widow (Palpopleura deceptor)

The photo above (by Gregg Darling) can be viewed in OdonataMAP here.

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

Family Libellulidae

Palpopleura deceptor DECEPTIVE WIDOW


Small size

Length up to 32mm; Wingspan attains 55mm.

Males could be confused with African Piedspot (Hemistigma albipunctum) or Eastern Blacktails (Nesciothemis farinosa). Deceptive Widow males are much smaller and have a different body shape to the aforementioned species. They are best recognised by their striking, neon white abdomens, streaked forewings and bi-coloured pterostigmas.

Females can be mistaken for other Palpopleura females. They can be recognised by the dark markings on the wings being restricted to the leading edges.

Click here for more details on identification.

Palpopleura deceptor – Male
Near Hluhluwe, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Ryan Tippett
Palpopleura deceptor – Female
Near Hluhluwe, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Ryan Tippett


This is a species of hot bushveld country where it occupies pans, ponds, marshes and dams. Inhabits standing water with a rich growth of emergent grass, sedges and other aquatic plants such as waterlilies. Favours clear, shallow water.

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


Despite their small size, the males are very conspicuous with their eye-catching neon white abdomens. Males perch prominently on grass and other plant stems over the water. They make short fast flights to catch prey or to chase off rivals, quickly returning to a perch. Females spend most of their time away from the water.

Status and Conservation

An uncommon and localised species. It is listed as of Least Concern in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Palpopleura deceptor is moderately sensitive to habitat degradation, but does occur at man made sites offering suitable habitat.


Palpopleura deceptor is widely, but sparsely distributed throughout most of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Below is a map showing the distribution of records in South Africa for the Deceptive Widow. Taken from 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.

Deceptive Widow – OdonataMAP record by Gregg Darling
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.