Critter Column: Skippers

by Jack Perkins

Skippers are very common, orange and tawny colored, inch long butterfly-like creatures. They are not true butterflies but lie somewhere between butterfly and moth; mostly leaning towards butterfly.

There are over 3500 species world-wide and are doing quite well. You will always see Skippers in our neighborhood; they are so common they go unnoticed.

Butterflies, Skippers and Moths are in the order Lepidoptera and Skippers are classified in the Hesperiidae family of the Lepidoptera order.

My yard has two kinds, Sandhill Skipper and Fiery Skip-per. However, identification is difficult and I am no lepidopterist. I see them darting around my yard, March through Octo-ber, preferring open sunny areas with flowers and grass.

They are stout little butterflies about one inch long, and they are scrappy and tough. They jostle bumblebees and wasps to get at flowers; hummingbirds are wary of them too.

They are fearless and quick and make little orange streaks across the yard. They are always having aerial spats and some-times four or more streak by jostling each other in a scrappy formation.

Or they lilt and skip low over my lawn occasionally alighting and depositing an egg on a strategic grass blade. Their eggs hatch into caterpillars that love to eat grass, the caterpillars turn into pupae and the pupae turn into the Skipper which is an im-portant pollinator. They work my flowers amid four kinds of bees, paper wasps, yellow jackets, and hummingbirds. Shoul-der to shoulder.
Skippers have a long proboscis they expertly insert deep into a flower to extract nectar, it is quite a thing to watch.

Their wings are swept back like a fighter jet and when they land they often spread their wings and they look like a little F-16. They have big round black eyes and long antennae, which they use to sense the air for scents, wind and nectar.

Wanting to learn more about their habits I tried tagging them like they do on all those great nature shows. But they just flopped around on the ground, even after I removed the tags. Fortunately there are millions more!

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