White-faced Meadowhawk

Sympetrum obtrusum (Hagen, 1861)

(sym•PET•rum  ob•TRUE•some)

As with many of the names assigned by Herman Hagen, the meaning of this name remains obscure, it may be a simple pointer to the white frons of the male which stands out.



Quick Identification Tips

  • Mature males have a snow-white frons.
  • Males and females have clear wings, saffroning limited to the basal-most cells.
  • Mature females are often ashy or steel gray in color, with off-white frons.


One of the troublesome three, or what I like to call the obtrusum complex. In Minnesota, this threesome is comprised of Sympetrum obtrusum, Sympetrum rubicundulum, and Sympetrum internum. It is this knot of closely related look alikes that gives meadowhawks a bad name, at least by those who demand to identify every last thing down to species. In the northeast, matters get worse by the addition of Sympetrum janeae. Luckily it’s not as impossible to sort through these particular dragonflies; a little practice and some patience will get you through the worst of it.



The White-faced Meadowhawk may very well be the most abundant, the most widely distributed, and most encountered meadowhawk in Minnesota. Mature males may also be the easiest to ID because of their snow-white frons, their "white face." However, a whole heap of confusion arises from the fact that immature males and females, both young and old, lack this namesake characteristic. The black markings along the side of the abdomen are variable, sometimes resembling a row of sharp triangles, other times its more rounded like a row of black whales, head to tail. The wings are clear, with only a tiny amount of color at the base.


Male hamules are claw-shaped. They have two knobs on the inner arm of the hamule like S. internum, but the S. obtrusum hamule is more stubby.


Similar Species

Whitefaced Meadowhawks are closely related to Cherry-faced Meadowhawks and Ruby Meadowhawks. Close observation of hamules and vulvar lamina is the one sure way to differentiate these species, though these three species are distinct enough to be separated in the field with experience, contrary to suggestions made in many guide books. So don't despair.



Minnesota Status

A transitional species. Widespread across North America. Found in all regions of Minnesota.


Natural History

Often perches on long, arching blades of grass, especially when they overhang trails or mown areas. Females are dimorphic, with many becoming a dark, ashen gray color instead of the more usual tannish-straw color. The White-faced Meadowhawk is the most easily approached of our species, often the males can be lifted off their perch onto a finger.



Journal Notes



Hind wing: 23 – 26mm Total Length: 31.5 – 33.5mm (n=5)