Autumn Meadowhawk: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

Autumn Meadowhawks, scientifically known as Sympetrum vicinum, are a fascinating species of dragonflies.

Found in various wetlands, these insects have a unique appearance with red or yellow-orange abdomens and reddish or chestnut-colored eyes, making them a sight to behold in the natural world.

As their name suggests, Autumn Meadowhawks are most active during the fall season.

These small dragonflies, ranging from 1 to 1.5 inches in length, play an important role in the ecosystem as predators of mosquitoes and other small insects.

In fact, they can often be seen perched horizontally on low vegetation, patiently waiting for their next meal.

Being a part of the Skimmer family Libellulidae, Meadowhawks are one of 15 different species in their genus, 9 of which can be found in Wisconsin.

Some species within this group exhibit sexual dimorphism, meaning males and females exhibit different colors and patterns.

This adds to the vibrancy and diversity found within Autumn Meadowhawk populations.

Autumn Meadowhawk Overview

Appearance and Identification

The Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum) is a red dragonfly species found in North America. It belongs to the Odonata order and Skimmer family.

  • Male: Males have a bright red abdomen.
  • Female: Females have a yellow to brownish-red abdomen.

Both sexes share features like clear wings without heavy stigmas and small size compared to other dragonflies.

Here’s a comparison table of an Autumn Meadowhawk and a related species, the Blue-faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum ambiguum):

FeatureAutumn MeadowhawkBlue-faced Meadowhawk
ColorRed / YellowBlue / Yellow
SizeSmall (<1.5 inches)Small (<1.5 inches)
WingsClearClear

File:Autumn Meadowhawk - Sympetrum vicinum, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Woodbridge, Virginia - 29829289304.jpg
Source: Judy GallagherCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Behavior and Habits

Autumn Meadowhawks are active during late summer and fall, hence their name. Their typical behavior includes:

  • Hunting: Catching small insects like flies and mosquitoes.
  • Perching: They often perch on foliage or low vegetation to rest and survey their surroundings.
  • Mating: Males court and mate with females by clasping onto their thorax.

Habitat and Range

These dragonflies are commonly found near ponds, marshes, and other wetland habitats. They are widespread across North America, including:

  • Alabama
  • Central regions
  • Doleritic areas
  • Wisconsin
  • Montana
  • Baja California

Overall, the Autumn Meadowhawk is a fascinating and easily identifiable species due to its vibrant colors, clear wings, and distinctive habits.

Lifecycle and Reproduction

Mating Behavior

Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum) are part of the Libellulidae family.

Males and females perform a mating ritual which involves the male displaying his brightly colored abdomen to attract a female for mating.

In some cases, male aggression and courtship rituals may be observed.

Eggs and Larval Development

As a member of the insecta class, the Autumn Meadowhawk’s lifecycle consists of four main stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.

Egg Laying

  • Females lay eggs in aquatic vegetation or water surface
  • Males guard females during egg-laying process

Larval Development

  • Larvae feed on insects such as mosquitoes and mayflies
  • Growth cycle consists of several molts
  • Once fully developed, larvae emerge as adults

In contrast to other species in the same family, the Autumn Meadowhawk has a relatively smaller range in size, is often found far from water, and has specific habitat preferences.

File:Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum) - Guelph, Ontario.jpg
Source: Ryan HodnettCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Autumn MeadowhawkOther Libellulidae
Smaller range in sizeLarger range in size
Habitat: bogs and wetlandsHabitat: various wetlands
Found far from waterFound near water sources

Diet and Predators

Feeding Habits

Their diet mainly consists of flying insects, such as:

  • Moths
  • Flies
  • Gnats
  • Small bees

They typically feed near pools and wetlands, often waiting on low vegetation to ambush unsuspecting prey.

Natural Enemies

Autumn Meadowhawks face several predators in their natural habitat, including:

  • Birds
  • Frogs
  • Fish
  • Spiders

Moreover, their nymph stage (immature stage before becoming an adult dragonfly) occurs underwater and faces threats from aquatic predators.

During this stage, their size and orange-brown coloration make them vulnerable to predation.

FeatureAutumn MeadowhawkYellow-legged Meadowhawk
SizeApproximately 1.5 inches longComparable
IdentificationRed or yellow-orange abdomen, yellow legsSimilar, with distinct yellow legs
FoodFlying insects (moths, flies, gnats, and small bees)Similar diet
HabitatWetlands and areas near poolsOverlapping, often found in similar areas
SeasonLate June/early July until fallComparable
Family & OrderFamily: Libellulidae, Order: OdonataSame family and order
Dimorphic (Sexual Dimorphism)A few species have different colors for males and femalesSimilar traits

Conclusion

To summarize, Autumn Meadowhawks are small dragonflies that feed on a diverse range of flying insects near pools and wetlands.

They can be distinguished by their red or yellow-orange abdomens, yellow legs, and size.

These dragonflies face predators throughout their life stages, from aquatic threats during their nymph stage to birds, frogs, fish, and spiders as adults.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about autumn meadohawks. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Autumn Meadowhawk, maybe

What type of dragonfly (or damselfly) is this?
Dear Bugman,
This type of a dragonfly (or red damselfly?) has landed on me twice this month in our yard. What type is it? We live in Southern New Hampshire, and the picture was taken today, September 30th. Thanks so much,
Maria

Hi Maria,
We believe this is an Autumn Meadowhawk, Sympetrum vicinum, a male. This Skimmer is small and often found in late summer. It is usually the last species found in a given area.

Letter 2 – Mating Meadowhawks, but what species

Mating red Meadowhawks
June 26, 2010
Hi there, hoping you might be able to help me get a positive ID on these Meadowhawks. Pics taken in early October 2006 on a boardwalk railing in a wetlands park. I’m thinking the series of pics really belongs in a sort of Kama Sutra book for Dragonflies… or perhaps at least one in your Bug Love section!

But seriously, they are so beautiful I wanted to share them, and I like to properly label my photos so ID help is appreciated. I have another super crisp shot of a single one just sunning on the rail,showing great detail of the fascinating complexity going on where the wings hook onto the body, but you only have room for 3 pics here.

If you are interested in the other, let me know, I’ll send it on.
Cheers, Dee
Totem Lake, Kirkland, Washington State

Mating Meadowhawks

Hi Dee,
We agree that these mating Dragonflies are Meadowhawks in the genus Sympetrum, but Dragonfly identification often challenges our abilities.  The Red Veined Meadowhawk, Sympetrum madidum, does range in your area, but alas, the BugGuide information page provides no information. 

The wing patches on your dragonflies, both male and female, are red, and the patches on the photos of the Red-Veined Meadowhawks on BugGuide all have black patches.  We favor the Cardinal Meadowhawk, Sympetrum illotum, but again BugGuide does not include information.  Seems we are not alone in our difficulty ascertaining the correct identification of Dragonflies. 

BugGuide also has a page devoted to red adult Meadowhawks, but it has no information except a link to a forum page.  On the Forum Page, Cliff provides the following comment:  “Sympetrum identification  I have seen a number of photos of Sympetrum (Odonata: Libellulidae) in the ID Request section, such as this one:  which have been identified as S. rubicundulum or S. internum by people referencing the guide pages for those species.

I checked out the guide pages, and found a number of images of these species, apparently identified by photograph alone. I am not an expert, but the literature I have found and people I have talked to indicate that these and several other species (S. janae, most S. obtrusum) are not identifiable without close examination of genital appendages under a microscope.

Perhaps we could have some sort of a disclaimer on the guide pages (maybe there is one I missed?) explaining the difficulty of Sympetrum identification, or include a “Sympetrum rubicundulum complex” or “Kalosympetrum sp.” page for specimens that cannot be assigned to species reliably. … …..Cliff“.  So Dee, we may not be able to provide a conclusive species identification.

Letter 3 – Mating Ruby Meadowhawks

Subject: Ruby Meadowhawk
Location: Toledo, Ohio
September 20, 2015 2:29 pm
Good evening!
I thought you might enjoy this delightful pair of mating Ruby Meadowhawks. It’s very rare that they stay still long enough for me to get a good photo, but there were so many in my favorite photography spot today I had to struggle to take a photo not including them!
Signature: Katy

Mating Ruby Meadowhawks
Mating Ruby Meadowhawks

Dear Katy,
The coital position used by Dragonflies and Damselflies is among the most intricate in the insect world and your image of mating Ruby Meadowhawks is quite the addition to our archives.

Letter 4 – Mating Whitefaced Meadowhawks

Hi again…
I don’t usually shoot bugs (frogs are my primary prey — but dragons and damsels hang around the frog pond and so are fair game).  Your “Bug Love” link reminded me that I have two dragon/damsel X-rated photos that might be of interest… although I realize that everyone shoots pictures of these photogenic guys.

If there are any pictures in my small dragonfly collection that would be of interest, please feel free to grab them or ask for better resolution. 

The only question I have … is it surprising to see a red dragonfly mating with a blue one?  (It’s the 5th picture down on the page… I’m tempted to give it the politically-flavored title “Red meets Blue”).
The “Damsel fly Valentine” is further down the page … the typical heart-shaped union.
Regards,
Suzanne
Dragon/damsel page is at:
http://frog-shots.com/Dragonflies.html

Whitefaced Meadowhawks Mating

Hi Suzanne,
You did not indicate a location for this photograph, so we are guessing it is also Westford Massachusetts, the location given for your Robin photograph

Many Dragonflies exhibit sexual dimorphism, where the males and females appear quite different, even to the extent that they do not look like the same species. 

We believe this mating pair are Whtiefaced Meadowhawks, Sympetrum obtrusum.  BugGuide has a photo of a mating pair for comparison purposes.

Letter 5 – Variegated Meadohawk

Subject: Daniel – One of Your Favorites!
Location: Hawthorne, CA
January 23, 2014 12:22 pm
Hi Daniel,
We are happy to hear you enjoyed the photos of the Monarch Butterfly eclosion. It did delay my culinary diversion just a bit, as I went out to witness the event when Marty stuck his head in the door to tell me it had begun! It’s worth it, though. It’s not the first we’ve witnessed but it never gets old.

Yesterday this beautiful little dragonfly patiently sat for a photo session. I know dragonfly identification isn’t one of your favorite pastimes, but am hoping that maybe you’ve seen and id’d one of these in past.
Signature: Thanks, Anna Carreon

Variegated Meadowhawk
Variegated Meadowhawk

Hi Anna,
We actually identified what we believe to be a female Variegated Meadowhawk several hours ago, but chores around the house superseded creating a new posting. 

You can compare your individual to the images posted to BugGuide here and here.

Probably Female Variegated Meadowhawk
Probably Female Variegated Meadowhawk
Closeup of a Variegated Meadowhawk
Closeup of a Variegated Meadowhawk

Letter 6 – Variegated Meadowhawk

CA dragonfly?
Location: Irvine CA
October 23, 2011 8:52 pm
Hi Bugman, I am a Mainer visiting CA. Photographed this dragonfly at San Joaquin NWR in Irvine CA. What is it?
Signature: Steve

Variegated Meadowhawk

Hi Steve,
Because we knew we had identified this species once before despite not remembering its name, we needed to comb through our archives to locate the Variegated Meadowhawk

You can also see many marvelous images of the Variegated Meadowhawk, Sympetrum corruptum, on BugGuide.

Letter 7 – Variegated Meadowhawk

Subject: Dragonfly
Location: Central Oklahoma USA
March 30, 2014 9:26 am
I cant find this one anywhere Can you help to ID. this one?
Signature: name

Variegated Meadowhawk
Variegated Meadowhawk

Our Automated Response
Thank you for submitting your identification request.
Please understand that we have a very small staff that does this as a labor of love. We cannot answer all submissions (not by a long shot). But we’ll do the best we can
!

I am thinking a Variegated Meadowlark

Male Variegated Meadowhawk
Male Variegated Meadowhawk

Hi name,
We agree that this is a male Variegated Meadowhawk, and you can compare your individual to this image posted to BugGuide.

Letter 8 – Variegated Meadowhawk, we believe

Subject: Daniel – Another Dragonfly Request
Location: Hawthorne, CA
October 20, 2012 8:24 pm
Saw this out in the back today whilst trimming Marty’s beard & moustache. I know dragonflies aren’t your favorite identification requests, but maybe you will give it a try? It’s a very small dragonfly in comparison to others I’ve seen in the yard.
Signature: Thanks, Anna Carreon

Variegated Meadowhawk

Hi Anna,
We believe we have correctly identified your Dragonfly as a Variegated Meadowhawk,
Sympetrum corruptum, thanks to photos posted on BugGuide.  The Variegated Meadowhawk is described on BugGuide as being:  “mottled red, white and brown.”

Hi Daniel,
Thank you very much!  I believe that is what it is.  Wish I had your knack for bug identification.
Anna

Thanks Anna,
Though we cannot always remember names, we generally remember that we have identified a particular insect in the past, and like other times, we found this identification by searching our own archives.

Letter 9 – Western Meadowhawk

Neon Skimmer? (Libellula croceipennis)
Location: Naperville, IL
June 30, 2011 11:18 am
Hello there!
I captured these images last July(2010) of what I think is a male neon skimmer sitting atop a tomato cage. He certainly lives up to his name.

This amazingly beautiful creature sat there for 10 minutes while I snapped all kinds of closeups, barely twitching. Then he flew off.

Thank you for hosting this amazing site. I could spend hours perusing it and admiring all the astounding photos. Best regards,
Signature: Dori Eldridge

Western Meadowhawk

Hi Dori,
The Neon Skimmer is a western species, and we disagree with your assessment, but alas, we don’t have an alternative.  Dragonfly identifications are very confusing for us, and we would prefer that someone with more experience identify the species. 

We have been looking at possibilities on BugGuide to no avail though we do agree that it is most likely in the Skimmer family Libellulidae, which is very well represented on BugGuide

Then, as we were about to post, we tried a last ditch effort and did a web search for “red dragonfly Illinois” and we found the Field Museum Common Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Chicago Region website, and there was your Western Meadowhawk, Sympetrum semicinctum

A cross check on BugGuide satisfied us that the identification was correct, but considers the species to be the Band-Winged Meadowhawk.

Western Meadowhawk

Thank you!  Goodness, living in the midst of a large prairie preserve, you’d think I would have jumped on the Meadowhawk genus from the start and noted the geographical un-likelihood of a neon skimmer. 

And thank you for the awesome Field Museum link – I’ve never seen it before.  You are wonderful, wonderful!  Regards,
-Dori

Authors

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  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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