What was formerly known as the common spreadwing has two forms that are now each considered valid species; the northern spreadwing (Lestes disjunctus) and the larger southern spreadwing (Lestes australis). These species are difficult to distinguish from each other, and from the similar sweetflag spreadwing. The female of the sweetflag spreadwing is readily identified by her extremely long ovipositor. However, the males of the three species can only be separated by subtle differences in the shapes of the terminal appendages, hamular processes, and apical hood at the tip of the abdomen. The length of the adult averages about 1.5 inches. The male's thorax is dark above with thin tan, green, or blue shoulder stripes and pale sides that become pruinose with age. The male's abdomen is dark above, with the sides having dark ventro-lateral marks on a pale background and a pruinose gray tip when mature. The female is colored similarly to the male, but she does not develop pruinosity.
The range of this species is widespread throughout the central and eastern United States south of Wisconsin. It is found at a variety of lentic habitats with emergent vegetation, including ponds, swamps, marshes, and slow streams that will usually have few or no fish. In Wisconsin, it appears to be an early season migrant that has only been documented in thirteen counties (as of 2020), and it may not breed successfully here. Survey effort in Wisconsin has not been sufficient to fully elucidate its range, and some resident populations are possible as two probable tenerals have been found in mid-summer.
Late April through June for migrants. It is possible that some tenerals emerge in late July or August and, if so, they probably fly south shortly after emergence.