Brown Duskhawker (Gynacantha villosa)

View the above photo record (by Gary Brown) in OdonataMAP here.

Find the Brown Duskhawker in the FBIS database (Freshwater Biodiversity Information System) here.

Family Aeshnidae

Gynacantha villosa BROWN DUSKHAWKER


Very large

Length up to 77mm; Wingspan attains 114mm.

The sexes are very similar but males are slightly brighter, have a 4-celled anal triangle and a narrower waist.

Most likely to be confused with Gynacantha manderica and Gynacantha usambarica.

Gynacantha villosa can be told apart by the double cell row between the R2 and R3 veins in the forewings. The other two species have only a single row of cells. The Brown Duskhawker is also unique among Southern African species in having a black ring around the metastigma, and in males, a four-celled anal triangle.

Click here for more details on identification of the Brown Duskhawker.

Gynacantha villosa – Male
Chongwe, Zambia
Main photo by Norman Barrett
Inset photo by Gary Brown
Gynacantha villosa – Female
Phalaborwa, Limpopo
Photo by Coen Van den Berg


Occupies coastal and especially swamp forests along the northern KwaZulu-Natal coast. Found in the vicinity of streams and pools, surrounded by dense vegetation. Further inland it inhabits riverine forests fringing large savanna rivers.

Habitat – Swamp forest with dense vegetation.
Near Kosi Bay, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Ryan Tippett


Elusive, crepuscular and seldom seen. Rests by day in dark, shaded undergrowth. Most active at dawn and dusk when it emerges to hunt over pools, streams and clearings. The flight is fast and powerful. The Brown Duskhawker is sometimes attracted to lights in the early evening. Hangs from a perch when at rest.

Status and Conservation

Uncommon to rare and localised in South Africa, where it is listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Gynacantha villosa is generally intolerant of habitat degradation and is mostly found at undisturbed sites.


The Brown Duskhawker is found in East and Southern Africa. Extending from Ethiopia in the north down through Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania to Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and marginally into South Africa.

Below is a map showing the distribution of records for Brown Duskhawker 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.