Skipper Butterflies (Family Hesperiidae)

Checkered Skipper Butterfly | Small Skipper Butterfly | Essex Skipper Butterfly

Although Skipper butterflies share certain characteristics with other butterflies, particularly in egg, larval and pupae stages, they differ in several important ways.

Skipper butterflies have the antennae clubs hooked backward like a crochet needle, whilst other butterflies have club-like tips to their antennae.

Skipper butterfliesalso have stockier bodies than those in the families Papilionoidea and Hedyloidea, with stronger wing muscles. There are about 3400 species of Skippers. They are usually classified in the following subfamilies:

  • Awls and Policemen (Subfamily Coeliadinae, about 75 species)
  • Grass Skippers (Subfamily Hesperiinae, over 2000 species)
  • Skipperlings (Subfamily Heteropterinae, about 150 species)
  • Giant Skippers (Subfamily Megathyminae, about 100 species)
  • Spread-winged Skippers (Subfamily Pyrginae, about 1000 species)
  • Firetips (Subfamily Pyrrhopyginae, about 150 species)
  • Australian Skippers (Subfamily Trapezitinae, about 60 species)

Some Skipper Butterflies are extremely alike and it is very difficult to tell them apart. Below are a few examples of Skipper Butterflies.

Checkered Skipper

Checkered Skipper (Carterocephalus palaemon) - this butterfly has a wingspan of 29 to 31 millimetres. The uppersides are a dark brown with a dusting of orange scales at the base of the wings and golden spots, giving it its English name of Chequered Skipper.

The basic pattern on the underside is similar but the forewings are orange with dark spots and the hindwings are russet with cream spots rimmed in black. Both male and female are similar although females are generally slightly larger. The Checkered Skipper has been extinct in England since 1976 but has stable populations in western Scotland. Attempts to reintroduce the butterfly to England were started in the 1990s. It was previously quite widespread in the midlands of England with isolated populations as far as Devon and Hampshire.

Small Skipper

Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris) - this skipper has a rusty orange colour to the wings, upper body and the tips of the antennae. The body is silvery white below and it has a wingspan of 25 -30 millimetres. In the Small Skipper, the undersides of the tips of the antennae are yellow orange.

Like the other orange 'grass skippers' the male has a distinctive black stripe made up of scent scales. This butterflys range includes southern Britain, much of Europe, north Africa and the Middle East, typically occurring where grass has grown tall. Eggs are laid loosely inside grass sheathes of the caterpillars foodplants from July to August. The newly hatched caterpillars eat their own eggshell before entering hibernation individually in a protective cocoon of a grass sheath sealed with silk.

The smallest butterfly in the world is the Western Pygmy blue (Brephidium exilis) with a wingspan of 1.5 centimetres (0.6 inches).


Essex Skipper

Essex Skipper (Thymelicus lineola) - this Skipper is known in the USA as the European Skipper. It has a wingspan of 2.5 to 2.9 centimetres and is very similar in appearance to the Small Skipper. The easiest way to tell the difference between the two is to look at the tips of the antennae.

The Essex skippers are black whereas those of the Small Skipper are orange. This butterfly occurs throughout much of Europe. Its range spreads from southern Scandinavia, east to Asia and North Africa. It was only identified in the UK in 1889 and its range is expanding both in England and in northern Europe.

Eggs are laid in strings on the stems of grasses where they remain over the winter. The favoured foodplant is Cock's-foot (Dactylis glomerata). The caterpillars emerge in the spring and feed until June before forming shelters from leaves tied with silk at the base of the foodplant to pupate. The adult flies from July to August. Like most skippers, they are fairly strictly diurnal, though individuals are very rarely encountered during the night.

Skipper Butterfly Gallery

Dotted Roadside Skipper
Two Barred Skipper
Gold Banded Skipper
White Banded Skipper
Dulled Firetipped Skipper
Southern Skippling


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Scientific classification:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
(unranked) Rhopalocera
Superfamily: Hesperioidea
Family: Hesperiidae


About 550 genera,
3,500 species
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