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.
This species was first defined in Linnaeus (1758) as shown here (type locality: Europe).
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.
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.
The primary larval foodplant is Sheep's-fescue (Festuca ovina).
Adults feed primarily on Carline Thistle (Carlina vulgaris) and Thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.).
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.
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 a full list of aberrations for this species.
ab. juncta (Tutt.Brit.Lep.1906.8.p.156.)= faunula Oberthur.Lep.Comp.l910.4.p.361 (fig.Etudes 20.pl.6.f.85.)
On the underside of the hindwings the white spots are united into one large blotch so that only a pale shade remains in the centre. Tutt and Oberthur described the same specimen. Oberthur's figure shows all the white spots joined together to form a complete circle, the centre being pale brownish.
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.
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.
Before pupation, the larva spins a cocoon very close to the ground, in a grass tussock. This stage lasts around 2 weeks.
Description to be completed.
Click here to see the distribution of this species overlaid with specific site information. Alternatively, select one of the sites listed below.
|Aston Rowant NNR, Aston Upthorpe Downs, Beachy Head, Beacon Hill, Box Hill, Broughton Down, Burham Down, Butser Hill, Buttler's Hangings, Butts Brow, Denbies Hillside, Fontmell Down, Frog Firle Farm, Grangelands, Lullington Heath, Lydden Down, Malling Down, Martin Down, Old Winchester Hill, Seven Sisters Country Park, Stockbridge Down, Watlington Hill, Windover Hill|
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.
|Species of Conservation Concern|
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).
The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.
The species description provided here references the following publications: