Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris)
Small: wingspan c. 30 mm
Both sexes are a uniform orange-brown on the upper surfaces of the forewings, which have a dusky outer margin and weakly darkened venation. The under wings are somewhat duller in colouration on their upper sides with a broad dark band along their leading margin. Both sets of wings are fringed white. There is a narrow oblique black scent line across the forewing in males. The under surfaces are a grey to yellow brown with obscure darker orange brown markings.
Small Skippers are insects of high summer. Although they spend much of their time basking or resting among vegetation, they are marvellous flyers, manoeuvring expertly through tall grass stems. It is these darting flights, wings glinting golden-brown in the sunlight, that normally alert an observer to their presence. Closer examination will reveal many more individuals nectaring or basking with their wings held in the half-open posture distinctive of skipper butterflies.
The butterfly is widespread in southern Britain and its range has expanded northwards in recent years.
Behaviour and life history
Small Skippers characteristically hold their upper wings obliquely upwards and away from the under wings when at rest. It forms discrete colonies with periods of activity being alternated with extended periods of rest. This species tends to confine its activities within the immediate neighbourhood of its colonies and seldom wanders any distance away. Eggs are laid in late July and early August with the caterpillars emerging some two weeks later. Small Skippers overwinter as caterpillars in grass sheaths before emerging in the following spring, feeding and finally pupating in a silken tent amongst blades of grass in June. Adults emerge in late June or early July. The larval foodplant is almost exclusively Yorkshire Fog, Holcus lanatus.
Where to look for it
The Small Skipper if a butterfly of rough grassland, field margins, hedgerows, woodland margins, rides and glades. It is commonly found in all Plymouths Local Nature Reserves, particularly where there is rough grassland.
Distribution and status
Common and widespread throughout Plymouth wherever there is suitable habitat.
The characteristic resting pose with the angled forewings make this species separable from all others except the Large Skipper, Ochlodes venata, which is rather larger and has a more patterned upper surfaces to the wings.