Females are ochre bodied, whilst males are reddish with a dark patch on the side of the thorax. Both sexes usually have yellow-striped brown legs. Body length 40mm. Forewing 30mm.
Eggs are laid in flight with the abdomen being dipped into shallow water. The eggs hatch within a few weeks, or the following spring if they are laid late in the year. The larvae live amongst mud and weed and emerge after a year.
Flies June to December. It is seen in a wide range of situations, including ponds, lakes, ditches and canals, and also seen away from water. Often found perched on the ground or vegetation, basking in the warmth of the sun. Common and widespread throughout, except where it is largely absent in Scotland and northern England.