Cape Skimmer (Orthetrum capicola)

The photo above (by Joe Smereczansky) can be viewed in OdonataMAP here.

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

Family Libellulidae

Orthetrum capicola CAPE SKIMMER


Medium sized

Length around 57mm; Wingspan around 74mm.

Fairly easy to recognise. By far the most common Orthetrum species within its range.

Most similar to Orthetrum julia (Julia Skimmer) and Orthetrum chrysostigma (Epaulet Skimmer). Differentiated from Julia Skimmer by having yellowish pterostigmas, black claspers and a broad grey-white band on the sides of the thorax. The secondary genitalia of O. capicola and O. julia are very similar.

Told apart from Epaulet Skimmer by differently shaped secondary genitalia, and by the thorax stripe which is irregular and broader at the bottom. The thorax stripe on the Epaulet Skimmer is narrower and of even width.

The females are unusual in that they are more recognisable than the males. They have an overall colour ranging from dark pinkish through to red-brown with black lines. They also have two conspicuous white stripes on the sides of the thorax.

Click here for more details on identification.

Orthetrum capicola – Male
Marloth Nature Reserve, Western Cape
Photo by Ryan Tippett
Orthetrum capicola – Old male
Moordkuil River, Western Cape
Photo by Ryan Tippett
Orthetrum capicola – Female
Montagu, Western Cape
Photo by Ryan Tippett


Inhabits a wide range of habitat types, from rivers and streams to marshes, ponds and dams. Occupies both still and flowing waters. Non breeding individuals are often found away from water.

Habitat – Kogelberg Nature Reserve, Western Cape
Photo by sharon Stanton


Often perches on the ground, but also on rocks and exposed stems and twigs. Hunts from a perch with a rapid, darting flight. Frequently returns to the same perch. Both sexes can be found in the same area. Often found hunting away from water in the surrounding habitats.

Status and Conservation

Very common. Listed as of Least Concern in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species


Orthetrum capicola is endemic to South Africa. It occurs throughout the Western Cape, the southern parts of the Eastern Cape and marginally into the Northern Cape.

Below is a map showing the distribution of records for Cape Skimmer 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.