Easily identified by its wing patterns, the Carolina saddlebags varies from 1.9 to 2.1 inches in body length. On the hindwings, near the body, 1/4 of the wings are reddish or dark brown. The thorax is brown. The end of abdomen has black dorsal spots. Females and juvenile males have red-brownish abdomens and faces. In mature males, the abdomen may become bright red. The face may also become red. The forehead, in males, is metallic violet. The forehead is half metallic violet in females. The red saddlebags differs from the Carolina saddlebags in having no violet colors on foreheads, male's abdomen pale red, end of abdomen pale, clear "windows" in wing spots, near the body, and smaller hindwing bands.
Found in eastern United States and southeast Canada, this species is more common in the south and possibly migratory toward to the north. It prefers ponds, lakes, swamps, and slow streams, including temporary ponds and avoids muddy water. In Wisconsin, it is known from just a few widely scattered sites.
The few adults in Wisconsin were seen from late May to mid-September. In the northern part of its range, the flight season is from mid-May to late August.