Skipper (butterfly)

The Skippers are a group of insects in the order Lepidoptera. They are usually counted as butterflies, but they are somewhat intermediate between the rest of the butterflies and the remaining Lepidoptera, the moths.

Skippers are classified in the superfamily Hesperioidea, which includes only one family, the Hesperiidae. They differ in several important ways from the remaining butterflies, which are classified in superfamily Papilionoidea. Skippers have the antennae clubs hooked backward, have stocky bodies, and possess stronger wing muscles and better eyes. Nonetheless, the two superfamilies are regarded as sister taxa, so the butterflies collectively form a true clade. In fact, some taxonomists place the family Hesperiidae within the superfamily Papilionoidea.

There are about 4000 species of Skippers. They are usually classified in the following subfamilies:

  • Awls, Awlets and Policemen (Subfamily Coeliadinae, about 75 species)
  • Firetips (Subfamily Pyrrhopyginae, about 150 species)
  • Spread-wing Skippers (Subfamily Pyrginae, about 1000 species)
  • Skipperlings (Subfamily Heteropterinae, about 150 species)
  • Grass Skippers (Subfamily Hesperiinae, over 2000 species)
  • Australian Skippers (Subfamily Trapezitinae, about 60 species)

Some authorities treat the Giant Skippers as a separate family, the Megathymidae, but more modern classifications place them within the subfamily Hesperiinae in the family Hesperiidae.

Many species of skippers look frustratingly alike. Some species in the genera Erynnis, Hesperia, and Amblyscirtes cannot currently be distinguished in the field by experts. The only reliable method of telling them apart involves dissection and examination of the genitalia.

Examples include:

  • Aaron’s Skipper
  • Chequered Skipper – Carterocephalus palaemon
  • Small Skipper – Thymelicus sylvestris
  • Essex Skipper – Thymelicus lineola
  • Lulworth Skipper – Thymelicus acteon
  • Silver-spotted Skipper – Hesperia comma
  • Large Skipper – Ochlodes venata
  • Dingy Skipper – Erynnis tages
  • Grizzled Skipper – Pyrgus malvae