Orange Skipper

2012 January 28

Here’s another of the little orange skippers that are common around here in the early summer (this one was photographed on June 16, 2011). It has some white mottling on its underwings, which is a bit different from the nearly pure orange skipper that was posted in the past.

It looks like one of the Grass Skippers, subfamily Hesperiinae. These are small skippers whose caterpillars mainly eat grasses. As for further ID, I’m not sure how conclusive it is, but the pale pattern on the underside of the wings is pretty much indistinguishable from the Hobomok Skipper, Poanes hobomok. Which has been reported from near here before, so it actually is a pretty good possibility.

One of the features distinguishing skippers from other butterflies is their antennae. Butterfly antennae end in a blunt, bulbous tip, but skipper antennae have a bulb that then narrows back down to a point, like we see here:

So, given that their caterpillars eat grasses (and nobody much cares about things that eat grasses, as long as they don’t kill it), and the adults are kind of small and not very colorful, it doesn’t look like these get a lot of attention.

Incidentally, I think it’s interesting that so few butterflies are considered agricultural pests. The only ones that occur to me at the moment are the Cabbage White butterfly (which obviously eats plants in the cabbage family), and maybe the Black Swallowtail (which eats plants in the carrot family). Butterflies mostly seem to either eat objectionable plants (like milkweed), or eat plants that are so common that nobody misses it if it gets eaten (like grass). Or, if they do eat something of value to humans, their numbers just don’t seem to get high enough to be seriously damaging (like most of the butterflies whose caterpillars eat tree foliage). The Lepidoptera that seriously eat crops, defoliate trees, and otherwise cause a lot of agricultural damage all seem to be moths. Of course, that’s probably just because there are about ten species of moth for every species of butterfly[1]. Since there are many more moth species than butterfly species, if it is just a matter of random chance whether one of them turns out to be an agricultural pest, the odds are that it will be a moth.

[1] Incidentally, while it is possible to define butterflies and skippers as particular groups within the Lepidoptera, the definition of “moth” turns out to be “Any Lepidoptera that isn’t a butterfly or skipper”. BugGuide lists 32 superfamilies under “Lepidoptera”. One of those is the butterflies (Papilionoidea), another is the skippers (Hesperioidea), and the other 30 are all the things that we collectively call “moths”. So really, the butterflies and skippers are no more distinct from moths, than the various kinds of moths are from each other.

One Response
  1. January 31, 2012

    What a wonderful creature! I always loved butterflies and even arranged y garden for them and I used to think that moths aren’t so sweet, until I had a closer look at such close-up pics one day – and the attitude to these creatures changed. And their caterpillars and just awesome!

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