Silver-spotted Skipper

Hesperia comma (hes-PEE-ree-uh KOMM-uh)

Silver Spotted Skipper Male - Colley Hill, Reigate, Surrey 28-July-11
Photo © Vince Massimo
 

Wingspan
Male: 29 - 34mm
Female: 32 - 37mm

Checklist Number
57.008

Family:HesperiidaeLatreille, 1809
Subfamily:HesperiinaeLatreille, 1809
Tribe:  
Genus:HesperiaFabricius, 1793
Subgenus:  
Species:comma(Linnaeus, 1758)

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Introduction

This warmth-loving skipper is relatively-local, but is fairly easy to identify, since it is the only skipper found in the British Isles that has the distinctive white spots on the underside of the hindwings, which give the butterfly its name. Like other "golden" skippers, the male is distinguished from the female by the sex brand on its forewings, which is a line of specialised scent scales. This butterfly is restricted to closely-grazed chalk downland sites in southern England. Its former range extended from South Somerset in the west to isolated colonies in the north as far as Westmorland and North-east Yorkshire. Its range contracted in the 20th century due to a reduction in grazing stock as well as the onset of myxomatosis which severely affected rabbit populations. Recent years have been more promising and this is one of the few species that is increasing its range. This species is not found in the Channel Islands.

Hesperia comma

This species was first defined in Linnaeus (1758) as shown here (type locality: Europe).

Silver-spotted Skipper male -  Chantry Hill, Sussex 7-Aug-2013

Male
Photo © Neil Hulme

Silver-spotted Skipper male - Chantry Hill, Sussex 2-Aug-2013

Male Underside
Photo © Neil Hulme

Silver-spotted Skipper female - Mount Caburn -09082015

Female
Photo © Buchan Boy

Silver-spotted-Skipper- 5D34135 Aston Rowant Aug 2013

Female Underside
Photo © IainLeach

Photo Album ...


Conservation Status

This butterfly is one of the few species whose fortunes have greatly improved as a result of improvements to the management of chalk grassland sites. However, this is still a species of conservation concern.

UK BAP StatusDistribution Trend (%)Population Trend (%)
Species of Conservation Concern
Increase+35
Decrease-19

The table above shows the distribution and population trends of species regularly found in the British Isles. The distribution trend represents a comparison between data for the periods 1995-1999 and 2005-2009. The information provided is taken from the Butterfly Conservation report The State of the UK's Butterflies 2011. The UK BAP status is taken from the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) (2007 review).

Habitat

This butterfly is found on chalk grassland that contains short, sparse, turf. This warmth-loving species is typically found on south facing slopes on which its sole foodplant, Sheep's-fescue, grows.

Distribution

 

Click here to see the distribution of this species or here to see the distribution of this species together with specific site information overlaid.

Life Cycle

This is one of the latest butterflies to emerge, not appearing until late July or early August, and it is then on the wing until early September. There is one generation each year.

The chart(s) above have been correlated with the phenology plot below, taken from the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. The blue line gives average counts over the full data set from 1976 to date, and the red line gives the average for the last year.

Imago

Like most skippers, this is a fast-flying species that flies close to the ground, and can be difficult to follow when in flight. The male of this species is more-frequently encountered than the female. Both sexes spend the majority of their time either basking or feeding, and a wide variety of nectar sources is used, including various species of Thistle. The butterfly will find the warmest patches of ground on which to bask, enjoying the warmth of paths, rabbit scrapes and other patches of bare earth which have been baked by the sun. This species is inactive in overcast conditions.

The male rests on a suitable sunlit perch, and investigates any passing butterfly, in the hope of finding a mate. If a virgin female is encountered, the pair exhibits a tumbling courtship, with the male eventually forcing the female to the ground where mating takes place. An egg-laying female locates a suitable patch of bare ground, such as a rabbit scrape, and then walks to the edge of the patch looking for a suitable location on which to lay a single egg.

Adults feed primarily on Carline Thistle (Carlina vulgaris) and Thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.).

Photo Album ...


Ovum

The conspicuous pale eggs are laid singly on small tufts of the foodplant, or on adjacent plants, where they overwinter. Eggs are often laid close to bare ground, such as rabbit scrapes or animal tracks.

Silver-Spotted Skipper - ovum - Unknown location - Unknown date (2) [REARED] [Reg Fry]

Photo © Reg Fry

Silver-Spotted Skipper - ovum - Unknown location - Unknown date [REARED] [Reg Fry]

Photo © Reg Fry

Silver-spotted Skipper eggs (11 total) - Box Hill, Surrey, 13th August 2014

Photo © bugboy
13-Aug-2014

Silver-spotted Skipper ovum  Box Hill Surrey 7th August 2010

Photo © millerd

Photo Album ...


Larva

The larva emerges in March, but does not feed on the eggshell. It forms a tent by spinning several leaf blades together from which it feeds, creating a new tent as it grows, and as the surrounding foodplant is eaten. The larva will often wander a considerable distance in order to find a dense tussock in which to pupate.

The primary larval foodplant is Sheep's-fescue (Festuca ovina).

Silver-Spotted Skipper - larva - Unknown location - Unknown date [REARED] [Reg Fry]

Photo © Reg Fry

Silver-Spotted Skipper - larva - Unknown location - Unknown date (2) [REARED] [Reg Fry]

Photo © Reg Fry

Silver-spotted Skipper - larva - Thatcham - 24-Jun-13 (1) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
24-Jun-2013

Silver-spotted Skipper - larva - Thatcham - 16-Jul-13 (3) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
16-Jul-2013

Photo Album ...


Pupa

Before pupation, the larva spins a cocoon very close to the ground, in a grass tussock. This stage lasts around 2 weeks.

Silver-spotted Skipper - pupa - Thatcham - 13-Aug-13 (1) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
13-Aug-2013

Silver-spotted Skipper - pupa - Thatcham - 04-Aug-13 (1) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
04-Aug-2013

Silver-Spotted Skipper - pupa - Unknown location - Uknown date (2) [Reg Fry]

Photo © Reg Fry

Silver-Spotted Skipper - pupa - Unknown location - Uknown date [Reg Fry]

Photo © Reg Fry

Photo Album ...


Aberrations

Aberration in this species is usually expressed in either the upperside ground colour (particularly in the female), and the shape and size of the silver spots on the underside. Aberration is generally rare in this species, although different individuals do often vary in the shade of the underside ground colour. In recent years the aberration juncta (Tutt) has been seen on a number of occasions at a site in Hampshire. This aberration is probably caused by a simple recessive gene. In hot summers, specimens with particularly dark upperside ground colour (see ab. suffusa below) have been known to occur with frequency on some sites, giving rise to speculation that this variation in colouration could be environmentally triggered. There are 13 named aberrations known to occur in Britain.

Click here to see the aberration descriptions and images for this species.

Similar Species

Large Skipper

Description to be completed.

Videos


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References

The species description provided here references the following publications:

ReferenceDetails
Fabricius (1793) Fabricius, J.C. (1793) Entomologia systematica emendata et aucta, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species.
Latreille (1809) Latreille, P.A. (1809) Genera crustaceorum et insectorum secundum ordinem naturalem in familias disposita, iconibus exemplisque plurimis explicata.
Linnaeus (1758) Linnaeus, C. (1758) Systema Naturae. Edition 10.