Summer is full of sunshine, flowers and insects! One group of insects are famous for their life cycle and fluttering. They belong to the order of Lepidoptera, and all have four thin wings covered in scales. We are talking about butterflies, moths and skippers, of course!
You can probably name some butterflies, like monarchs or swallowtails. And you can probably even name a moth, like the huge luna moth. How about a skipper? These little ones tend to get overlooked, but they are still important visitors to our native flowers, especially in the summer and fall.
Skippers are considered a type of butterfly, but they are different enough to be in their own group. They belong to the family called Hesperiidae. They got their skipper nickname because of their fast flight patterns, which make them look like they are darting or skipping from flower to flower. Their biggest difference from other butterflies is the shape of their antennae. Instead of having knobs at the end of their antennae like other butterflies, skippers have curved tips that look more like a half-moon.
When at rest, skippers’ wings are usually angled upward and folded out versus held together like butterflies do. Skippers tend to be shades of brown, tan, orange, black, white and gray. They have stout, hairy bodies with large eyes.
There are more than 3,500 species of skippers in the world, and more than 280 live in North America. Many of the skippers found in the United States are tropical species that live in southern Texas. Twenty-three species of skippers have been recorded in Will County, according to the Butterflies and Moths of North America database. To get us on more of a first-name basis with some of these skippers, let’s highlight three you could find right in your own backyard.
The silver-spotted skipper is possibly the most easily recognized skipper in North America. It has a dark body with gold or orange spots on its upper wings, or forewings, with a bright white or silver patch on its lower wings, or hind wings. It likes open wooded or brushy habitats. The caterpillars love black locust and honey locust. Adult silver-spotted skippers tend to visit milkweed, red clover, buttonbush, blazing star and thistle.
Tawny-edge skippers have orange along the edge of their forewings. Their hind wings are a brassy color with no other markings. These skippers like grassy areas like prairies, pastures and lawns. The caterpillars eat panic grasses, slender crabgrass and bluegrass. Adults can be found eating nectar from red clover, purple coneflower, chicory and thistle.
Peck’s skippers have a patch of yellowish-orange spots surrounded by a darker border. Females are darker than males. These skippers can be found in many grassy habitats, such as meadows, marshes, prairies and roadsides. Caterpillars feed on grasses like rice cutgrass and bluegrass. Adults visit purple vetch, ironweed, milkweed, New Jersey tea and more.
This summer, check out the clovers, milkweeds and grasses for skippers. Look for these smaller butterflies and take pictures to get better at identifying them. You can use the Seek app to help you identify a species, or come into one of our visitor centers for help! Now you can impress your friends by skipping along the trail naming the skippers you find along the way.
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