Bug News

Bug News

Observations, factoids, funny clips, and lots of bugs and other nature related images.

8-Minute Read

We all know butterflies can fly. And flit. And float, and flutter. Sometimes they even dart. But have you ever thought of them skipping? Well, someone did! Introducing the nimble-footed Silver-spotted Skipper!

The Silver-spotted Skipper, Epargyreus clarus, is one of the most recognizable species in the skipper family (= Hesperiidae) due to its large size and bright white splotch on its hind wing. Yes, there is a whole family full of skipping skipper butterflies - about 275 different species of skippers can be found in just North America. Unless you live in more tropical or subtropical climates though, most of these skippers are pretty small and come in various shades of browns, oranges, and yellows that can make identification difficult. Especially if trying to identify them from a photo or on-the-wing…. ;) The Silver-spotted Skipper, and other skippers in general, are really rather aptly named as these butterflies have relatively erratic flight patterns, quickly hopping, or skipping, to and fro from plant to plant. I suppose they could have also been named flitters or flitterers, but that sounds a bit too much like a pastry I like. Plus, it wouldn’t fit as nicely into my singsong title, now would it? Lol.

Silver-spotted Skipper on chives flower

Silver-spotted Skipper on chives flower

The Silver-spotted Skipper can be found throughout most of the US, and a bit into southern Canada and parts of Mexico. The butterflies can be seen skipping about in a number of habitats including wooded edges, fields and meadows, overgrown brushy/weedy areas, my garden, and even nearby swamps, rivers, and stream type areas. Basically, the Silver-spotted Skipper likes to hang out in places where it’s favorite flowers to drink nectar are located (I mean, I know I like to hang out near the kitchen). Although these skipper butterflies can be found in many places, they do have a strong preference for red, pink, blue, and purple flowers. The nectar favored by the Silver-spotted Skipper usually includes milkweed, red clovers, thistles (boy do I have a lot of those!), blazing star, buttonbush, and things in the pea plant family (with shades of pink and purple flowers).

Although they are not the only butterflies that do this, Silver-spotted Skippers also have a fondness for some less than pretty drinking options. Like mud… And dead animals… And bird poop… Gross, right? But why would these lovely butterflies do that when they have so many pretty flowers to drink from? Well, apparently mud, dead animals, and bird poop are all good sources of extra minerals and nutrients the butterflies need. Like nitrogen and sodium. Don’t get me wrong, I like salt as much as the next person (possibly a bit more), but I think I would have to learn to do without if that was the only method to get it…

Silver-spotted Skipper with it’s wings spread (hiding the silver)

Silver-spotted Skipper with it’s wings spread (hiding the silver)

The caterpillars (aka baby butterflies) of the Silver-spotted Skipper have very different tastes from the adults (=butterflies). The caterpillars feed on an assortment of different leafy things in the legume family (peas & beans family). This includes not just the herby/vegetable legume-type plants we usually think of like soybeans and snap peas, but also plants like locust trees, wisteria vines, and trefoils. While the Silver-spotted Skipper caterpillars may cause some minor damage to your purposely planted legume plants, they are rarely a pest concern. On the contrary, the caterpillars may often be considered beneficial because they feed on invasive introduced plants like kudzu (also in the legume family).

Besides feeding on some invasive plants for us, the Silver-spotted Skipper caterpillars have some interesting behaviors. First, they always build little leaf shelters on the plant they are eating so they have a place to hide. They are very precise in their building, taking time to pick just the right part of a leaf to cut and/or fold, measure out the perfect length of silk to secure the all the appropriate parts of the leaf structure, and even pace themselves so that they don’t get sloppy with 30 minute breaks after each leaf cut. Building their shelters is quite a procedure! In contrast to the Silver-spotted Skipper caterpillar’s very neat and precise building skills, they have a much less graceful approach to active defense methods. When threatened, the caterpillars will vomit up a foul, bitter-tasting, greenish substance as a chemical defense. Because what predator wants to eat green chemical ooze instead of a nice juicy caterpillar? Not me! Although I really don’t want to eat with option…

Silver-spotted Skipper caterpillar. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Silver-spotted Skipper caterpillar. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

I’ve only been able to find Silver-spotted Skipper butterflies at my house so far, but they also have some odd behaviors (although not as extreme as the caterpillars!). Unlike most butterflies that will perch on top of a leaf to periodically take a breather between attending to butterfly business, when the Silver-spotted Skippers need to take a rest, they will usually cling to the underside of a leaf and hang upside-down. Like a bat! The little weirdos… Also unlike most butterflies, these skippers will frequently resort to thievery. Most flowers have a very specific petal arrangement in order to guide pollinators to the correct location for obtaining nectar and transferring pollen. These floral guidelines ensure the win-win situation of providing nectar for pollination services. However, Skipper butterflies often just ignore these floral rules when looking for a quick drink. They will frequently completely bypass female flowers, or the female parts of a flower on a plant, and only drink from the male parts. This essentially means they do very little to no pollinating, a behavior called “nectar-robbing”. Pretty sneaky if you ask me. Getting a free meal without paying the pollination toll and then skipping away scotch-free… I guess it’s good for them that there are no pollination police, lol.

To read more about the Silver-spotted Skipper, check out these resources:

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