Sympetrum species are not easy to tell apart and in most areas more than one Sympetrum species will occur. Females and teneral individuals have light yellow thorax and abdomen. Males turn red as they mature. Females darken with age, becoming a dark chocolate brown, and sometimes develop a blue colouration to the bottom of the abdomen. The wings also develop a brown tinge with age. In all cases the legs have a cream or yellow stripe on a black background - this is a diagnostic feature of this species. The pterostigma of the females can be red, blue, pale blue or brown. They are ambush predators, waiting on a prominent perch - such as a leaf or the top of a gate, until prey fly past, whereupon they will fly after it. They are territorial on breeding waters, often attempting to chase much bigger dragonflies away such as southern hawkers. This habit of repeatedly returning to a sunny spot allows you to easily predict where they are going to land, which is why it is one of the easiest dragonflies to photograph.
Adults can be seen on the wing all year round in southern Europe but in northern regions they occur from June to November. This small dragonfly is seen in a wide variety of habitats, including lakes, ponds, canals and slow-flowing rivers.