This species can be found in much of southern and central Europe stretching out to Asia where it is replaced by S. paedisca. It is found around the Mediterranean in Europe and North Africa and on many Mediterranean islands.
It can be found in all types of standing water, including in brackish waters. In winter adults are found away from water on dry plant stems usually in open areas such as grassland and heaths. It was recorded for the first time in Britain in 2008.
Sympecma fusca can reach a length of about 38 millimetres (1.5 in). It is distinct from all other European damselflies except Sympecma paedisca, so in most of its range there are no problems with identification. In fact it does not have the bright blue or red colouration that is more usual for damselflies so it is often overlooked. Moreover it do not have the metallic emerald green sheen that is characteristic of the Lestes.
These damselflies have pale brown pterostigma on both forewing and hindwing and the pterostigma are nearer the wing tip on the forewing which means that both pterostigma can be seen, they do not overlap as in other damselflies. In the field this is easily seen and distinguishes Sympecma from all other damselflies. Males that have overwintered have dark brown pterostigma on both forewing and hindwing and many develop blue eyes.
Where both S. fusca and S. paedisca fly together careful examination of the adult, in the hand, preferably under magnification, is required to tell the two species apart. In the male the anal appendages are slightly different and there are subtle differences in the markings on the thorax in both sexes.