Fiery Skippers

Wednesday October 29, 2014
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Butterfly or Moth?

These little butterfly-looking moths are the merriest of creatures. Skippers are considered butterfies but have traits of both moth and butterfly. Like moths, skipper bodies are a bit on the bulky side when compared to the slender butterfly. Who would have thought insects could have body types? The skipper is very alert and despite his or her plus-size frame, appears to skip through the air from flower to flower at a rapid pace!

Fiery Skipper close up

The Fiery Skipper has short antennae with clubs and a little hook on the end.

Dancing Skippers

Male and female Fiery skippers doing their courtship dance.

♪♫ Come Skip Through the Tulips with Me ♪♫♪

Skippers are in the family Hesperiidae, with over 3000 skipper species throughout the New and Old World but its the Fiery skipper that is most often spotted skipping through the air of California landscapes. The delightful Fiery skipper enjoys this states warm weather as she flits from flower to flower, over manicured lawns, trees, and shrubs. Sometimes youll see two of them doing a dance and then rest a moment on a leaf before they zoom off again. And zoom they do just try taking a picture.

Fiery Skipper tongue

Check out this skippers long tongue The better for sucking nectar with, my pretty little flower.

Identification and Life Cycle

Male Fiery skippers are yellow-orange with black spots whereas female skippers are dark brown with orange or yellow spots. Males can be found perching on lawns and/or plants, waiting patiently for female skippers to stop by. Both male and female have very short antennae that have clubs on the ends with backward facing hooks.

Skippers, like all butterflies and moths, go through a complete cycle of metamorphous.In southern California, breeding is year round; therefore, female Fiery skippers may have several broods throughout the year.The female skipper lays a single egg under some leaves or on a host plant; once it hatches into larvae (a caterpillar with a black head) it feeds on the leaves but also uses them for shelter.

Fiery skipper caterpillar

Fiery skipper larvae eat grass and leaves and other green things.

To build a shelter, skipper caterpillars chew two lines on a leaf, making a tab of sorts to tuck under the edge of the other side of the leaf, and then they secure it with a piece of silk.Skippers usually overwinter as caterpillars in their leaf shelters or cocoons.The Fiery skippers entire life cycle is only about a year. Still, thats a long time if you compare them to some insects like honeybees that only live for 5-6 weeks.

Male Fiery Skipper

Male Fiery skippers are yellow-orange with black spots.

Female Fiery Skipper

Female Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus) Californias most urban skipper.

Fiery Skipper Skipping Range

The sun loving Fiery skipper prefers warmer climates. Its geographic range stretches across the southern states from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean and down into Argentina and the Antilles. If the Fiery skipper finds it has skipped too far north into the land of harsh winters, the skippers life span will be cut short because the larvae are unable to overwinter in such cold climates.

Skippers as Landscape Pests?

How could something with a face this cute be a pest? Well, its not the skipper butterfly thats a pest; the pest is the skipper caterpillar before it becomes a butterfly. May through September, damage from skipper caterpillars where theyve chewed on grass can be seen in the form of brown spots on lawns. The spots are only about 1-2 inches in diameter but sometimes when they are close together, the spots form a large, irregular looking brown patch.

Fiery skipper with wings spread

Fiery skippers usually rest while their wings are open like a jet ready for flight.  Spreading their wings enables them to absorb the California sunshine.

Bumblebee Mimic Robber Fly An assassin that waits patiently for a skipper to land nearby.

Bumblebee Mimic Robber Fly An assassin that waits patiently for a skipper to land nearby.

Check out our blog on the Bumbleebee Robber Fly: Bumblebee Mimic Robber Fly

Skipper Predators

Skipper butterflies and skipper caterpillars have different predators that will attack and eat them. The skipper butterfly has to be careful of robber flies, spiders, dragonflies and wasps. The caterpillar may fall prey to lacewings, praying mantis, assassin bugs, spiders, wasps, ants, and even ladybugs! However, predators not only have to be patient but very fast to snatch the skipping skipper!

Fiery skipper on flower

Female Fiery skipper on purple flower; her forewings are held upright while her hind wings are folded flat to absorb the sun.

Article by Donna Walker

References (2014) Skippers Encyclopedia of Life. (2014) Fiery Skippers Wikipedia. (2014) The Free Encyclopedia: Hylephila phyleus Imes, R. The Practical Entomologist, A Fireside Book, Simon & Schuster Inc., 1992. Print


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