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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Northern Spreadwing - Lestes disjunctus

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S5

Agency Status


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General Description
This is a relatively large damselfly 1 ¼ to 1 ¾ inches (30 to 41 mm) long. The build is slender with short wings in proportion to the length of the abdomen. The thorax is bronze-black with a yellow stripe down the center on the upper surface.

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions


Range Comments
Until recently, the Northern Spreadwing was known as the Common Spreadwing with two distinct subspecies, (L. d. disjunctus - northern race and L. d. australis - southern race). These subspecies have been separated into two separate species, Northern Spreadwing and (L. australis) Southern Spreadwing.

The Northern Spreadwing has an extensive range. It is found from Alaska across northern Canada to Labrador, and south to Florida and California. In Montana it is found throughout the state, especially in wetland and lake areas - Red Rocks, Seeley-Swan, Prairie Potholes.

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 318

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Northern Spreadwings prefer still-water and well-vegetated habitats of lakes and ponds, some of which can be temporary, as well as marshes, swamps, pools and bogs, and even slow, sluggish streams. (Westfall and May 1996, Nikula et al. 2002, Acorn 2004, Paulson 2009).

Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2012.  Mammals of Montana.  Second edition.  Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana.  429 pp.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
Larvae feed on a wide variety of aquatic insects, such as mosquito larvae, other aquatic fly larvae, mayfly larvae, and freshwater shrimp.
Adult- This damselfly will eat almost any soft-bodied flying insect including mosquitoes, flies, small moths, mayflies, and flying ants or termites.

At the large marsh in Red Rock NWR this species swarms in late summer, together with the Spotted Spreadwing (L. congener), and the Emerald Spreadwing (L. dryas). The larvae (naiads) are very active, rapacious hunters, which makes them vulnerable to predation by fish. As a result, they are often found in shallow marshes and ponds areas that may dry up in summer, and thus lack fish. However, this species does occur in permanent bodies of water as well. The naiads have from the time the pond fills up in the spring to when it dries up in the summer to mature and emerge.

Reproductive Characteristics
Male Northern Spreadwings spend a predominant amount of their time perched on emergent vegetation with only short flight periods. Females arrive at breeding sites ready to mate and copulation commences quickly. Tandem pairs complete oviposition with the female slicing the stems of bulrushes or sedges open with her ovipositer. Northern Spreadwings are also known to submerge entirely in tandem during oviposition - an unusual behavior for spreadwings - occasionally returning to the surface for air (Nikula et al. 2002, Paulson 2009).

The Northern Spreadwing is another Lestes species (Emerald and Lyre-tipped Spreadwings) where the deposited eggs halt their development and overwinter before restarting again after the wetland fills with water or unfreezes in the spring (Acorn 2004).

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Citation for data on this website:
Northern Spreadwing — Lestes disjunctus.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from