The red saddlebags is easily identified by its wing patterns, varying from 1.6 to 1.9 inches in the body length. On the hindwings, the basal 1/5 of the wings are reddish to dark brown, with the patches being smaller than those of the Carolina saddlebags. There are clear "windows" in the hindwing bands. The thorax is brown. The end of abdomen has small black dorsal spots with pale sides. Juvenile males and the females have red-brownish abdomens and faces. The abdomen becomes pale red in mature males, differing from the Carolina saddlebags males' bright red abdomen. The face also becomes red.
Found through much of the United States, this species is more common in southwest and possibly migratory toward to the east. Like the Carolina saddlebags, the red saddlebags prefers ponds, lakes, swamps, and slow streams, including temporary ponds, and also avoids muddy water. It is occasionally seen throughout Wisconsin, but more commonly in the southern half of the state.
The flight season extends from as early as late May to as late as early October in Wisconsin. Northbound migrants arrive in late spring and early summer and their offspring emerge and head south starting in mid-August.