Happy Friday, Butterfly Buddies!!! We hope you’re having a great Friday. This week we wanted to introduce you to a family of butterflies that is distributed worldwide, and can be seen in your backyard as well as in the remotest of habitats. The family name is Hesperiidae, but they are better known as “Skipper” butterflies. Skippers comprise one of the largest butterfly families, with thousands of members worldwide. They range in size from under ½-inch to over 2 ½-inches in wingspan, which we would classify as small butterflies. But don’t let their small size fool you. Skippers are very durable butterflies. They can fly faster than any other butterflies, sometimes making a buzzing sound as they pass. Skippers also show a huge range of diversity in wing color patterns including iridescence, camouflage, transparency, and even metallic colors. Even though Skippers are so widely distributed, they are one of the poorest known of any Lepidoptera family. And with all the species known, there are still perhaps as many as 1/3 of the species in the family yet to be discovered! That’s why we think Skippers are an interesting family to learn about.
For starters, Skippers are extremely difficult to classify. Skippers are a relatively ancient butterfly family, having split off of the family tree at a very early point. They are so different in some respects, that some species have pronounced similarities to moths. Skippers generally have very stout bodies, with very strong wing muscles that allow them to reach speeds of close to 30 miles-per-hour in short bursts. Usually, their heads are very large compared to most butterfly families. And their antennae usually end in a hook-tip instead of a club, like other butterflies. The shape of their antennae is one of the main ways to classify them. But since many Skippers are so poorly known, sometimes only an expert can classify them to species. In fact, some Skippers require dissection in order to differentiate certain species. There is also a fairly high degree of mimicry among Skippers, with some looking like butterflies of other families. The literature about Skippers is fairly limited, and there are no comprehensive identification sources. Because the identification process is so challenging, few amateur collectors extensively collect Skippers. But for those that do make the effort, the Skippers can provide a lifetime of learning and appreciation. And for the Entomology career-minded, there are very few Skipper specialists, making this family a lifetime opportunity. We were first introduced to the diversity and importance of Skippers by an Entomologist who personally identified over 500 species of Skippers in only one square mile of Brazilian rainforest!!! And until his untimely death, he believed that there were many more species to discover within the same area.
Like all Lepidoptera families, Skippers are more abundant in the tropics. In northern Illinois, we have seen perhaps 10 Skipper species. Most can be seen in fields or on flowers, usually low down or on the ground. But in the rainforest, you have to work much harder to find them. Many Skippers fly too fast to observe on the wing or even to catch in a net. Our friend showed us a little known trick that makes Skippers much more accommodating. He told us to put wet tissue pieces on leaves along a jungle path. Because the rainforest provides limited food sources for butterflies at certain times of the year, the Skippers can be attracted to these tissue pieces and will stop to feed. They will stay there for several minutes, allowing ample time for photography. This method works to a lesser degree here at home due to the more abundant food sources. But we have had spectacular success in the rainforest using the tissue paper technique. All of our Skipper photos posted today were species that we saw in Ecuador, all in only a 400-acre reserve!!! We actually have counted over 60 species in this reserve, and we too believe that there are many more species awaiting discovery there. We’ve also included a few pictures of the Skippers feeding on our lures. We always use toilet paper for the lures because it’s biodegradable and will not contaminate the environment.
Due to the Skipper’s smaller average size, you don’t often see them individually framed. But they are wonderful additions in framed groups of specimens. In our Wonders Of Nature department, we have several Skippers in our collage frames. Many Skippers are colorful and unique, and they’re sure to be admired by everyone who takes a close look at them. Next time you’re in the neighborhood, we hope you’ll stop in and see them. See you on the trail!
And don’t forget to visit the Friday Flyers archive on our website. You can now refer to all of the past editions complete with all the photos, in a stable and permanent format. We hope you’ll visit our website and check it out at:
We hope you enjoyed this week’s edition of Friday Flyers. We love sharing our interest in butterflies and insects with you. Please enjoy the photos we have posted with this week’s edition, and be sure to see all the previous pictures in our Friday Flyers album. Remember to “like” our Wonders Of Nature page, and be sure to pass it along to all your Facebook Friends. We hope you’ll visit our Wonders Of Nature department soon, and we look forward to seeing you.