E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Wildlife of British Columbia

Sympetrum illotum
Cardinal Meadowhawk
Family: Libellulidae
Species account author: Robert Cannings.
Extracted from Introducing the Dragonflies of British Columbia and the Yukon (2002)

Photo of species

© May Kald  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #11754)

E-Fauna BC Static Map
Distribution of Sympetrum illotum in British Columbia
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Species Information


The face is red and the thorax brown-red with two white spots low on each side (the remnants of pale stripes in immatures). The wing bases are orange streaked with dark brown. The legs are red-brown. Male’s broad abdomen is brilliant red; female’s is duller. Hamule shown in figure; vulvar lamina spout-like. Length: ♂ 38 mm, ♀ 37 mm.

Flight Period

B.C., mid May to mid October (mostly in June and July, which is early for a meadowhawk).

Genus Description

Small to medium-sized dragonflies that are mostly yellow when young and mostly red when mature; one common species is black. Females are usually yellow or tan, but can be red like males. You can watch most species easily at close range, because the adults are not powerful flyers and perch often. They are frequently abundant around ponds and lakes and adjacent meadows, especially in the late summer and fall. Many species will perch on the ground; Sympetrum means “with (or on) the rocks”. Species can be difficult to distinguish. Look for the colour of the face, legs and wing veins; the patterns on the sides of the thorax and abdomen; and the details of the genitalia (the male’s hamules and the female’s vulvar lamina).


Family Description

The largest dragonfly family in our region – 24 species in eight genera live here and one other species in another genus is a rare visitor. They come in many sizes and colours, many with bold wing markings or coloured veins. Their eyes meet broadly on top of the head. The anal loop in the hindwing is distinctive: foot-shaped with a long toe. Most common around ponds, marshy lakeshores and sluggish streams, the adults dart about and most species spend a lot of time perched horizontally in the sun. Females lay eggs alone or in the company of guarding males. Most dip the tip of their abdomen into the water when releasing the eggs, but some will tap or splash the eggs into wet mud or moss, or simply flick them into a dry pond basin. Some larvae, like those of the emeralds, move sluggishly or squat on the bottom mud; others climb in vegetation.
Field Notes

A common and striking resident of lowland coastal ponds and lakes. Males are easy to approach; they return again and again to a favourite twig over the water, perching with wings cocked downward, scarlet abdomen glowing in the sun. Female lays her eggs in tandem with male.


Montane, as far south as Argentina and Chile. Lowlands of B.C.’s south coast to about 50°N.

Status Information

Origin StatusProvincial StatusBC List
(Red Blue List)
NativeS4YellowNot Listed
BC Ministry of Environment: BC Species and Ecosystems Explorer--the authoritative source for conservation information in British Columbia.

Additional Photo Sources

General References

Recommended citation: Author, Date. Page title. In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2021. E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia [efauna.bc.ca]. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed: 2024-06-15 3:38:09 PM]
Disclaimer: The information contained in an E-Fauna BC atlas pages is derived from expert sources as cited (with permission) in each section. This information is scientifically based.  E-Fauna BC also acts as a portal to other sites via deep links.  As always, users should refer to the original sources for complete information.  E-Fauna BC is not responsible for the accuracy or completeness of the original information.

© E-Fauna BC 2021: An initiative of the Spatial Data Lab, Department of Geography, UBC