Essex Skipper

Thymelicus lineola (thy-ME-lee-kuss lin-ee-OH-luh)

Essex Skipper Male - Chaldon, Surrey 6-July-10
Photo © Vince Massimo
 

Wingspan
26 - 30mm

Checklist Number
57.005

Family:HesperiidaeLatreille, 1809
Subfamily:HesperiinaeLatreille, 1809
Tribe:  
Genus:ThymelicusHübner, [1819]
Subgenus:  
Species:lineola(Ochsenheimer, 1808)

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Introduction

The Essex Skipper forms discrete colonies that vary from a small number of individuals to several thousand. Where it occurs it can therefore be very common. This species is very similar in appearance to the Small Skipper and, because of this similarity, was not recognised as a separate species until 1889. The male is distinguished from the female by the sex brand on its forewings, which is a short line of specialised scent scales. Despite its name, the Essex Skipper is now found over much of the southern half of England and it was first recorded in Wales in 2000 and in Wexford in south-east Ireland in 2006. On the British mainland it is to generally be found south of a line between Dorset and North Lincolnshire. It is believed that the increase in distribution is being assisted by the steep and grass-covered embankments that are often found on motorways and major trunk roads which acted as corridors - allowing this species to reach new locations more easily.

Thymelicus lineola

This species was first defined in Ochsenheimer (1808) as shown here (type locality: Germany).

Essex Skipper - Larkhill - 16-07-2013

Male
Photo © Wurzel

Essex Skipper. 16/7/2013. Alfriston, East Sussex.

Male Underside
Photo © badgerbob

Essex-skipper- 03C6249 Nottingham 24 July 2010

Female
Photo © IainLeach

Essex Skipper - female - Stockbridge Down - 22-Jul-16

Female Underside
Photo © Pete Eeles

Photo Album ...


History

The table below shows a chronology of vernacular names attributed to this species. Any qualification of the name (e.g. male, female) is shown in brackets after the name.

YearNameReference
1894New Small SkipperFurneaux (1894)
1896Scarce Small SkipperKirby (1896)
1897Lineola SkipperColeman (1897)
1906Essex SkipperSouth (1906)

Conservation Status

The Essex Skipper is one of the few species whose distribution is expanding rapidly, particularly in northern areas. It is not, therefore, a species of conservation concern.

UK BAP StatusOccurrence Change
1976-2014 (%)
Abundance Change
1976-2014 (%)
Occurrence Change
2005-2014 (%)
Abundance Change
2005-2014 (%)
Not Listed
Large Increase+104
Large Decrease-88
Stable+3
Large Decrease-66

The table above shows the occurrence (distribution) and abundance (population) trends, using information from The State of the UK's Butterflies 2015 (Fox, 2015). Any UK BAP status is taken from the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) (2007 review).

Habitat

This species is found in rough grassland, including road verges, woodland rides, chalk grassland and embankments.

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

There is a single generation each year with adults first emerging at the end of June, and flying throughout July and August.

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

The male is the more active of the two sexes, and is territorial, unlike the female which is more sedentary. When egg-laying, females exhibit the same behaviour as the Small Skipper. Specifically, the female will alight on a dead stem of Cock's-foot, and then move backwards down the stem, probing the sheath as she moves. When a suitable opening in the furled sheath is found, she will lay several eggs inside. The female of the Essex Skipper selects tighter leaf sheaths in which to lay eggs than the Small Skipper, which may explain a difference in primary foodplant. The loose sheaths of Yorkshire-fog are avoided, the female preferring other grasses, such as Cock's-foot or Creeping Soft-grass, whose sheaths are tighter. Both sexes are nectar-loving, and can be found visiting flowers such as Thistles and Red Clover.

Adults feed primarily on Thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.). Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica), Heather (Calluna vulgaris / Erica spp.), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) and White Clover (Trifolium repens) are also used.

Thymelicus lineola

Essex-Skipper- 03C6999 Nottingham 24 July 2010

Photo © IainLeach

Essex Skipper male - Friston, Sussex 10-Aug-2012

Photo © Neil Hulme
09-Aug-2012

Essex Skipper - imago - Stockbridge Down - 12-Jul-09 (2)

Photo © Pete Eeles
12-Jul-2009

Essex Skipper - imago - Stockbridge Down - 12-Jul-09 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles
12-Jul-2009

Essex Skipper Male - Chaldon, Surrey 6-July-10

Photo © Vince Massimo
06-Jul-2010

Essex Skipper - male - Stockbridge Down - 07-Jul-14

Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Jul-2014

Essex-Skipper- 5D32853 Notts, July 2015

Photo © IainLeach

Essex Skipper - Penwood - 3 July 2011 (2)

Photo © Clive
03-Jul-2011

Essex Skipper - imago - Stockbridge Down - 20-Jul-10 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles
20-Jul-2010

Essex-Skipper- 5D32484 Notts, July 2015

Photo © IainLeach

Essex Skipper - female - Stockbridge Down - 22-Jul-16-5

Photo © Pete Eeles
22-Jul-2016

Essex Skipper - Mottisfont - 19-07-2015

Photo © Wurzel

Essex Skipper - imago - Stockbridge Down - 12-Jul-09 (4)

Photo © Pete Eeles
12-Jul-2009

Essex-Skipper- 03C5453 Nottingham 24 July 2010

Photo © IainLeach

Essex Skipper - Larkhill - 16-07-2013

Photo © Wurzel
16-Jul-2013

Essex Skipper Male - Crawley, Sussex 6-July-05

Photo © Vince Massimo
06-Jul-2005

Essex Skipper - Penwood - 3 July 2011 (3)

Photo © Clive
03-Jul-2011

Essex Skipper - female - Stockbridge Down - 22-Jul-16-8

Photo © Pete Eeles
22-Jul-2016

Essex Skipper - imago - Stockbridge Down - 12-Jul-09 (5)

Photo © Pete Eeles
12-Jul-2009

Essex Skipper Female - Coulsdon, Surrey 15-July-07

Photo © Vince Massimo
15-Jul-2007

Photo Album (50 photos) ...


Ovum

Eggs are pale when first laid, gradually deepening to yellow-cream after a few days. After 3 weeks, the egg turns white, the head of the larva becoming visible as a dark spot through the transparent shell. The fully-developed larva overwinters within in the egg.

"When the butterfly is intent on egg-laying she flies slowly among the long grass, searching for a suitable stem to receive the eggs, which are laid in a row in the sheath between the stem and the blade and are attached to the latter. In captivity the eggs are sometimes laid fully exposed on both the blades and flower-heads of grasses. A. lineola passes hibernation in the egg stage, which occupies between eight and nine months. On August 13th, 1909, the author captured several lineola females on the sea walls of Wallasea Island, Essex. These were placed on growing plants of different kinds of grasses, and during the following week many eggs were deposited on both the stems and blades of the grass, but most were laid in the sheaths of couch grass (Triticum repens) and cat's-tail grass (Phleum pratense); as many as fourteen were deposited in a row on the same blade, and some were laid singly. Another frequent food plant is the heath false brome grass (Brachypodium pinnatum). The egg is oval, much flattened, being in height only one-third its greatest diameter, which is 0.80 mm. The central area is slightly sunken, the micropyle is just discernible by the small, fine reticulations, which gradually develop in size and cover the whole surface in an irregular fine network pattern; the ground surface is extremely finely granulated, otherwise it is shining. When first laid it is a clear, pale primrose-yellow, which very gradually becomes a deeper straw-yellow, and finally, when about twenty days old, turns an opaque milky-white, with a dull leaden spot, usually at the end of the egg, which is the head of the larva that is plainly visible through the transparent shell; the body is coiled round the egg, the head and tail meeting at the end. In this condition it remains unchanged until hatching. The eggs began hatching about April 20th, 1910." - Frohawk (1924)

Thymelicus lineola - Ovae in leaf sheath [Wolfgang Wagner]

Photo © Wolfgang Wagner
www.pyrgus.de

Essex Skipper - ovum - Thatcham - 14-Apr-16

Photo © Pete Eeles
14-Apr-2016

Essex Skipper Ova, 07/07/2017, near Havant

Photo © Pauline
07-Jul-2017

Photo Album (3 photos) ...


Larva

The larva emerges in the spring and, without eating the eggshell, starts to feed on the foodplant. After a few days, the larva forms a tube, by spinning together the edges of a leaf blade, from which it emerges to feed. There are 5 instars in total.

The primary larval foodplant is Cock's-foot (Dactylis glomerata). Common Couch (Elytrigia repens), Creeping Soft-grass (Holcus mollis), False Brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum), Meadow Foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis), Timothy (Phleum pratense) and Tor-grass (Brachypodium pinnatum) are also used.

1st Instar

"The larva eats away the end of the egg and emerges; it does not eat more of the empty shell after its exit. Directly after emergence it measures 1.6 mm. long, being large in proportion to the size of the butterfly. The head is large, black, somewhat granular, and beset with a few tiny white hairs. The body is almost cylindrical, only tapering at the anal extremity. On the first segment is a transverse dorsal, crescentic-shaped, dark brown band; the segmental divisions are deeply incised and the segments have five sub-divisions throughout the greater part of its length. The surface is thickly covered with fine blackish granulations. Above the spiracles are six rows (three on each side) of minute curved glassy white hairs with bulbous bases. Those on the anal segment are very much longer. The entire colouring of the body is a clear straw-yellow; the blackish granulations give it rather an ochreous hue; the spiracles are brown. The second and third segments have each a lenticle resembling the spiracle. At first the larva lies along the midrib of a grass blade in a straight position and feeds from one part of the edge of the blade, returning to its resting place after each meal; when a few days old it draws the edges of the blade together by a few threads of silk. Before first moult, about fourteen days old, it measures 2.8 mm. long; the colour is very pale ochreous tinged with greenish. The larva lives in a tube formed by drawing the edges of a blade together by strands of silk at different intervals." - Frohawk (1924)

2nd Instar

"The first moult occurred on May 11th. After the first moult, about twenty days old, it is 4.2 mm. long, of a pale citron-yellow, longitudinally striped with olive, composed of numerous pale olive granulations, forming medio-dorsal and sub-dorsal lines, and the body is sprinkled with dusky warts, each bearing a tiny clubbed point; also on each segment is a lenticle on each side of the medio-dorsal stripe and one below the spiracle. The spiracles are brown. On the ventral surface of each segment is a brown blotch; these form a medio-ventral series. The head is a dull black, granular, and beset with short white hairs. It lives in a tube as in previous stage." - Frohawk (1924)

3rd Instar

"The second moult on May 23rd. After the second moult and shortly before the third it measures 8 mm. long. It is very similar to the previous stage. The head is light olive-ochreous, roughly granular, with a brown clypeus and a brown band down each check; the mouth parts and eye spots are blackish. The body is rather densely covered with black warts emitting club-shaped points; the colouring during this stage is greener than before and the light stripes are whiter, otherwise it is similar." - Frohawk (1924)

4th Instar

"The third moult on June 2nd. After the third moult, about forty-four days old, it measures 14 mm. long. The ground colour is pale glaucous-green; a medio-dorsal darker stripe bordered by a pale yellowish line, and a sharper defined whitish-yellow sub-dorsal line and a bluish-white lateral line. The body is rather thickly sprinkled with shining black warts, each emitting a short white spinous bristle; the head is whitish-buff, tinged with greenish above the mouth, and striped clown the centre and each lobe of the crown with olive-brown, and is sprinkled with whitish hairs." - Frohawk (1924)

5th Instar

"The fourth moult on June 20th. After the fourth and last moult, fully grown, it measures 22.2 mm. long; it reached its full dimensions on June 14th, but did not spin up until six days after. The larva is rather slender and tapering, terminating in a projecting rounded and compressed anal flap. The head is oblong, of a pale pearly-green colour, banded down each lobe with whitish and light brown, the latter colour being the outer; the clypeus is outlined with brown; the eye spots and mouth parts are black; it is clothed with fine white hairs; the segments have six sub-divisions, all rather deeply cut on the dorsal surface. The ground colour is green, with darker dorsal and sub-dorsal longitudinal stripes, bordered with whitish-yellow-green stripes and a conspicuous lateral white longitudinal band; the whole surface is freckled with darker green, which breaks up the pale stripes into a checkered pattern; the sub-dorsal whitish stripe does not extend over the anal segment, which makes it appear much greener than the rest of the body. On the ventral surface at the divisions of the ninth and tenth, tenth and eleventh segments is a white waxy covering; the spiracles are whitish. The entire surface is rather densely covered with fine, short white bristles; those on the first three segments have black wart-like bases. The general colouring of the larva with its longitudinal stripes harmonizes well with the grass blades, and the brown and white banded head resembles a withered eaten end of a blade. The larva is provided with an anal comb for the ejectment of the faces. The larva spins a loose network of silk round the blades and a layer along the central one, in all forming a slight cocoon. It rests on the layer, attached by the claspers and a cincture round the body, resting head upwards for three days and then pupates. One spun up June 20th, and pupated on the evening of the 23rd." - Frohawk (1924)

Essex Skipper - larva - Kent - 22-Jun-07 [Marc Heath]

Photo © Marc Heath

Photo Album (1 photos) ...


Pupa

When fully-grown, the larva spins a tent of leaves at the base of the foodplant in which it pupates, attached to a grass blade by a silk girdle and the cremaster. The pupal stage lasts about 3 weeks.

"The pupa measures 15.9 mm. long; it is rather slender and gradually tapering from the head to anal extremity. Dorsal view: Head blunt and broad, about equal in width to the thorax; it has a central beak with bulging base, concave sides and bluntly pointed apex, which is covered with long shanked hooks, very irregularly placed and projecting in various directions; these are anchored to silk cords spun loosely to the grass blades. The pupa is gradually attenuated to the cremastral point, which is likewise furnished with long hooks, securely fastened to the layer of silk covering the surface of the grass blade, but is much more densely spun at both ends of the pupa, which is, roughly speaking, anchored securely both fore and aft, as well as a silken cincture round the body behind the thorax. Side view: The head rounded, beak centrally placed and slightly curved downwards, thorax swollen and rounded, wings on a plane with the body, the whole gradually tapering posteriorly; the anal segment terminates in a rather long, slightly curved cremastral flap, dorsally depressed. The tongue sheath reaches to the end of the abdomen. At first the colouring is similar to the larva, all the stripes showing the same. The whole colour gradually matures, and when five days old it is clear light green with a slightly darker green medio-dorsal stripe, bordered on each side by a whitish lint and a similar sub-dorsal line, and extremely faint pale lateral lines. The head and wings are whitish-green, the head horn and cremastral process pearly-white, the spiracles white. On the eighteenth day the eyes assume a beautiful rose-pink, which gradually changes to a rich amethyst, and finally leaden-black; the wings and thorax are deep amber and the abdomen greenish-ochreous, but still showing the longitudinal stripes; it finally turns to leaden-black, with the structural outlines grey and wings dull reddish. The imago, a female, emerged from the pupa described on July 14th, 1910 (early morning), remaining in the pupal state twenty days. The last example, also a female, emerged on August 11th, 1910." - Frohawk (1924)

Thymelicus lineola - Pupa [Wolfgang Wagner]

Photo © Wolfgang Wagner
www.pyrgus.de

Photo Album (1 photos) ...


Aberrations

Description to be completed.

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

Similar Species

Large Skipper

Description to be completed.

Lulworth Skipper

Description to be completed.

Small Skipper

Essex Skipper and Small Skipper can be distinguished by the colour of the underside of the tips of the antennae. In the Essex Skipper, this area is black and in the Small Skipper it is brown. This holds true for both sexes.


Essex Skipper (left) and Small Skipper (right)

Males can also be distinguished by the sex brand found on the upperside of their forewings. The sex brand of a male Essex Skipper is relatively-short when compared with that of the male Small Skipper. The sex brand of a male Essex Skipper also runs parallel with the leading edge of the forewing, but at an angle in the male Small Skipper.


Male Essex Skipper (left) and Male Small Skipper (right)

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References

The species description provided here references the following publications:

ReferenceDetails
Coleman (1897) Coleman, W.S. (1897) British Butterflies. Edition 3.
Frohawk (1924) Frohawk, F.W. (1924) The Natural History of British Butterflies.
Furneaux (1894) Furneaux, W. (1894) Butterflies and Moths (British).
Hübner (1819) Hübner, J. (1819) Verzeichniss bekannter Schmettlinge.
Kirby (1896) Kirby, W.F. (1896) A Hand-Book to the Order Lepidoptera.
Latreille (1809) Latreille, P.A. (1809) Genera crustaceorum et insectorum secundum ordinem naturalem in familias disposita, iconibus exemplisque plurimis explicata.
Ochsenheimer (1808) Ochsenheimer, F. (1808) Die Schmetterlinge von Europa.
South (1906) South, R. (1906) The Butterflies Of The British Isles.