Monday, February 20, 2012

Seeing Red: Cardinal Meadowhawk

Most meadowhawks (Sympetrum) are red—at least the males are, and sometimes the females too—but the Cardinal Meadowhawk (S. illotum) is about as red as they get. Mature males are simply vivid. Among the first spring-flying dragonflies in the Pacific Northwest lowlands west of the Cascades, it’s a welcome splash of color after a damp, dreary winter. Look for them at marshes and well-vegetated ponds and lakes of all sizes. Check out this map at OdonataCentral and see if this species has been recorded in your area.

They are also pretty easy to identify between the abdomen lacking any black patterning (which I think amplifies the redness), the red face, the brown thorax with a pair of white spots on the side, and wings with short basal black streaks enveloped in an amber suffusion and bright saffron veins along the leading edge. Females are either brownish or reddish in color, but either way they have the same white spots on the thorax and the short black streaks at the wing bases—a unique character among our meadowhawks.

Female Cardinal Meadowhawk (Sympetrum illotum). Notice the pair of white spots on the thorax and the short black streaks at the wing bases.
In the Pacific Northwest, we have several weeks yet before we can reasonably expect to see Cardinal Meadowhawks (or any adult dragonflies for that matter), but keep an eye out for them on those pleasantly warm, sunny, t-shirt appropriate days in April and early May (earlier further south)—weather permitting, of course!


  1. I can't wait! To me, they signify that we are well into Spring, and Summer is just around the corner!

  2. Your pictures are wonderful. I still remember your pointing out the white spot on my own blog. I didn't know, because the picture in the book I have doesn't show the spots clearly and I brushed over the description. Hope you don't mind, but I linked to this post on my blog post of a cardinal meadowhawk from April 8, 2010: Thanks, Jim.

    1. Thanks, Katie. Sure, feel free to link to my posts any time.

    2. Just saw one in my Tsawwassen, BC beeyard! July 12, 2015.