Family Hesperiidae - Skippers
Dicot Skippers (Eudaminae)
Grass Skippers (Hesperiinae)
Spread-wing Skippers (Pyrginae)
Genus Erynnis: Duskywings
Genus Pyrgus: Checkered-Skippers
Skippers, a large family (Hesperiidae) of butterflies, commonly get described as small, flighty, dark winged butterflies.
A heavily New World tropical and subtropical sufamily, Smaller skipper populations in Australia, Asia and North American skippers also rear their young on native flora.
The name grass skipper suggests that at least one of the families chooses North American monocot plants, especially the grasses as larval host plants.
Glancing at the skipper butterfly pictures appearing on this page also provides the first clues regarding the reasons for their distinct subfamily status.
The bent or curved antenna, along with their more robust bodies, place them somewhere between the true butterflies and the moths.
Their formal classification continues to prompt debate. Generally North American populations divide into five or six subfamilies:
- Firetips (Subfamily Pyrrhopyginae)
- Giant-Skippers (Subfamily Megathyminae)
- Grass Skippers (Subfamily Hesperiinae)
- Dicot Skippers (Subfamily Eudaminae)
- Skipperlings (Subfamily Heteropterinae)
- Spread-wing Skippers (Subfamily Pyrginae)
With approximately 275 total species, (plus or minus 10 because the number of documented species varies according to source) skippers rank as the largest butterfly subfamily. Often the brushfoot butterflies receive credit as the largest subfamily of true butterflies.
Despite what appears to be, at least on paper, a very diverse butterfly subfamily, approximately ninety per cent of skippers belong to either the Spread-wing Skipper or Grass Skipper subfamilies.
Firetips, a tropical subfamily, for example, record a North American population consisting of a single species, the Dull Firetip (Apyrrothrix araxes).
A bit of conflict regarding formal giant skipper (Subfamily Megathyminae) taxonomy exists. Generally specialists recognize approximately one dozen native North American species.
Another primarily tropical subfamily, Skipperlings, registers five or six native North American species in two genera.
The Arctic Skipper (Carterocephalus palaemon), pictured at the top of the page, bucks the general skipperling trend. Its range extends from coast to coast across Canada and southward across the northern United States.
The yellow-orange spots on a dark background make it an easily identified skipper.
Finally, perhaps three dozen dicot skippers (Subfamily Eudaminae), with familiar names such as cloudywings and longwings receive native North American status. Some experts also classify this group within the larger Spread-wing Skipper subfamily.
Starting with the proposition that spreadwing skippers and grass skippers constitute the bulk of the North American skipper population, differentiating between the two subfamilies gets easier.
As the name suggests, Spread-wing skippers initially get identified by dark or brown wings that remain open at rest.
Most of the approximately one hundred and fifty native species go by common names such as duskywing, sootywing and checkered-skipper.
Spread-wing skipper diversity often translates into many genera having single species representatives.
The Brown-banded Skippper (Timochares ruptifasciata), for example, represents the North American Timochares genus.
Found primarily in south Texas, caterpillars feed on Barbados Cherry plants.
The hind wings are generally lighter than the forewings, and bands are visible on both sets of wings.
Grass Skippers (Hesperiinae) constitute the largest subfamily, and they contrast with Spread-wing Skippers in the fact that they rest with their wings folded.
The common name grass skipper comes from the fact that their larvae feed on grass.
A resident of the Southeast, the Southern Skipperling (Copaeodes minima), picture three, gets the title smallest native grass skipper.
The caterpillars feed on bermudagrass. The white stripes on orange wings makes it among the easiest of skippers to identify.
The links in the box on the right point to articles providing more extensive coverage of both spread-wing skipper and grass skipper species.
© 2009-2011 Patricia A. Michaels