Skippers are small- to medium-sized insects, resembling butterflies or moths (they are more closely related to the former). They have hairy bodies that are short, stout, and rather dull-colored, while their wings consist of some pattern of brown, grey, or yellowish orange and black. Skippers have a fast, darting flight, and favor open, sunny areas. The caterpillars of most species feed on grasses or sedges in prairies or wetlands. However, the caterpillars of Epargyreus clarus (Silver-Spotted Skipper), feed on members of the Bean family (including Locust trees), while those of Pholisora catyllus (Common Sootywing) feed on various weedy plants, including Pigweeds, Amaranths, and Lamb's Quarters. Both of these species are larger than the other skippers. There are many species in this family, and they are important visitors to many prairie wildflowers, particularly during the summer or fall.
Species in this family are found all around the world. There are about 300 species in North America, and 47 of them occur in Michigan.
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native ); ethiopian (Native ); neotropical (Native ); australian (Native )
These are short stout insects, with shorter wings than most butterflies. Their antennae end in thick hooks. Michigan species are mostly brown or tan, with black, orange, or yellow markings.
Skipper caterpillars are usually green or brown, sometimes yellowish, never brightly colored. They have a distinctive "collar", a narrow ring around the body right behind the head.
Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: female larger
As usual for Lepidoptera, these species are usually found near their host plants. Most North American species feed on grasses, but some common species eat shrubs and trees, especially in the bean family. They are most common in meadows and on the edges of woods, but can be found in in many habitats.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: taiga ; desert or dune ; chaparral ; forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest ; mountains
Wetlands: marsh ; swamp
Skipper caterpillars eat the leaves of grasses, reeds, shrubs or trees. Most species are limited to a single group of food plants.
Adults mostly drink nectar, and sometimes mud (for minerals).
Caterpillars are camouflaged and often hide during the day. Many species make nests of leaves and silk for additional protection.
Adults are quick flyers, but have no special defense.
- Soricidae (eat pupae)
- Sigmodontinae (eat pupae)
- Anura (eat adults)
- Araneae, especially crab spiders and orb-weavers (eat adults)
- Formicidae (eat caterpillars)
- Hymenoptera (eat caterpillars and adults)
- mantids (eat adults)
- Diptera (eat caterpillars)
- Coccinellidae (eat eggs)
- Chrysopidae (eat eggs)
- Acari (eat eggs)
Life History and Behavior
Communication and Perception
Like most butterflies, they communicate mainly through sight and scent. Males fly to females and each species has its own set of actions and scents used to attract mates.
Their erratic, darting flight earns hesperids their common name "skippers".
Like all Moths and Butterflies, this family has complete metamorphosis. See More Information on Butterflies and Moths for an explanation of this. In this family, it is usually the larval stage that survives the winter in cold climates.
Development - Life Cycle: metamorphosis
Skippers only live for about a year or less.
After mating, females lay dozens to hundreds of eggs, one by one, on or near their food plants.
Breeding season: Late Spring through Fall, depending on the species. Michigan species often seen flying in October.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous
Parental Investment: no parental involvement
Evolution and Systematics
Discussion of Phylogenetic Relationships
The hypothesis of relationships is based on the combined morphological/molecular cladistic analysis of Warren et al. (2008). Eudaminae is removed from Pyrginae in order to preserve monophyly of the latter. Pyrrhopygini (formerly viewed as a subfamily) is nested within Pyrginae.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage
Specimens with Sequences:30402
Specimens with Barcodes:29027
Species With Barcodes:1908
No Skippers in Michigan are considered endangered, but some species in other parts of the country are in danger of extinction because their habitats are being changed or destroyed.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
Skippers don't have strong negative or positive affects on humans. They are common butterflies even in urban areas, and people often like to see them.
A skipper or skipper butterfly is a butterfly of the family Hesperiidae. They are named after their quick, darting flight habits. More than 3500 species of skippers are recognized, and they occur worldwide, but with the greatest diversity in the Neotropical regions of Central and South America.
Description and systematics
Traditionally, the Hesperiidae are placed in a monotypic superfamily Hesperioidea, because they are morphologically distinct from other Rhopalocera (butterflies), which mostly belong to the typical butterfly superfamily Papilionoidea. The third and rather small butterfly superfamily is the moth-butterflies (Hedyloidea) which are restricted to the Neotropics. However, recent phylogenetic analyses suggest the Papilionoidea are paraphyletic, and thus the subfamilies should be reorganised to reflect true cladistic relationships.
Collectively, these three groups of butterflies share many characteristics, especially in the egg, larval, and pupal stages. However, skippers have the antennae clubs hooked backward like a crochet hook, while the typical butterflies have club-like tips to their antennae, and moth-butterflies have feathered or pectinate (comb-shaped) antennae similar to "moths". Skippers also have generally stockier bodies and larger compound eyes than the other two groups, with stronger wing muscles in the plump thorax, in this resembling many "moths" more than the other two butterfly lineages do. But unlike, for example, the Arctiidae, their wings are usually small in proportion to their bodies. Some have larger wings, but only rarely as large in proportion to the body as in other butterflies. When at rest, skippers keep their wings usually angled upwards or spread out, and only rarely fold them up completely.
The wings are usually well-rounded with more or less sharply-tipped forewings. There are some with prominent hindwing tails, and others have more angled wings; the skippers' basic wing shape varies not much by comparison to Papilionoidea however. Most have a fairly drab coloration of browns and greys; some are more boldly black-and-white. Yellow, red and blue hues are less often found, but some largely brown species are quite rich-colored too. Green colors and metallic iridescence are generally absent. Sexual dichromatism is present in some; males may have a blackish streak or patch of scent scales on their forewings.
Many species of skippers look frustratingly alike. For example, some species in the genera Amblyscirtes, Erynnis (duskywings) and Hesperia (branded skippers) cannot currently be distinguished in the field even by experts. The only reliable method of telling them apart involves dissection and microscopic examination of the genitalia, which have characteristic structures that prevent mating except between conspecifics.
There are about 3500 species of skippers. They are now classified in the following subfamilies:
- Coeliadinae – awls, awlets, and policemen (about 75 species)
- Euschemoninae – Regent Skipper (monotypic)
- Pyrginae – spread-winged skippers and firetips (including Pyrrhopyginae)
- Heteropterinae – skipperlings (about 150 species)
- Hesperiinae – grass skippers (over 2000 species)
- Megathyminae – giant skippers (about 18 species; doubtfully distinct from Hesperiinae)
- Trapezitinae – Australian skippers (about 60 species)
- Ackery et al. (1999)
- Heikkilä et al. (2012)
- Kawahara & Breinholt (2014)
- Brower & Warren (2008)
- Ackery, P.R.; de Jong, R. & Vane-Wright, R.I. (1999): The Butterflies: Hedyloidea, Hesperioidea and Papilionoidae. In: Kristensen, N.P. (ed.): Handbook of Zoology. A Natural History of the phyla of the Animal Kingdom. Volume IV Arthropoda: Insecta, Part 35: Lepidoptera, Moths and Butterflies Vol.1: Evolution, Systematics, and Biogeography: 263-300. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, New York.
- Brower, Andrew V.Z. & Warren, Andrew (2008): Tree of Life Web Project – Hesperiidae. Version of 2008-APR-07. Retrieved 2009-DEC-24.
- Brower, Andrew V.Z. & Warren, Andrew (2006): The higher classification of the Hesperiidae (Lepidoptera: Hesperioidea) Full Article. Retrieved 2012-OCT-26.
- Heikkilä, M., Kaila, L., Mutanen, M., Peña, C., & Wahlberg, N. (2012). Cretaceous origin and repeated tertiary diversification of the redefined butterflies. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 279(1731), 1093-1099.
- Kawahara, A. Y., & Breinholt, J. W. (2014). Phylogenomics provides strong evidence for relationships of butterflies and moths. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 281(1788), 20140970.
- Glassberg, Jeffrey Butterflies through Binoculars, The West (2001)
- Guppy, Crispin S. and Shepard, Jon H. Butterflies of British Columbia (2001)
- James, David G. and Nunnallee, David Life Histories of Cascadia Butterflies (2011)
- Pelham, Jonathan Catalogue of the Butterflies of the United States and Canada (2008)
- Pyle, Robert Michael The Butterflies of Cascadia (2002)
To request an improvement, please leave a comment on the page. Thank you!