Small Skipper

Thymelicus sylvestris (thy-ME-lee-kuss sill-VESS-triss)

Small-Skipper- 5D32233 Notts, July 2015
Photo © IainLeach
 

Wingspan
27 - 34mm

Checklist Number
57.006

Family:HesperiidaeLatreille, 1809
Subfamily:HesperiinaeLatreille, 1809
Tribe:  
Genus:ThymelicusHübner, [1819]
Subgenus:  
Species:sylvestris(Poda, 1761)

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Introduction

This golden skipper is often found basking on vegetation, or making short buzzing flights among tall grass stems. Despite its name, 4 skipper species found in the British Isles are the same size or smaller than the Small Skipper. The male is distinguished from the female by the sex brand on its forewings, which is a slightly curved line of specialised scent scales. This butterfly is widespread on the British mainland, south of a line running between Westmorland in the west and North Northumberland in the east. It is absent from Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. This species lives in discrete colonies of both small and large populations.

Thymelicus sylvestris

This species was first defined in Poda (1761) as shown here (type locality: Graz, Austria).

Small Skipper - Daneway Banks - 27th June - 2015

Male
Photo © Maximus

Small Skipper Male - Crawley, Sussex 28-June-05

Male Underside
Photo © Vince Massimo

Small Skipper Female - Chaldon, Surrey 12-July-10

Female
Photo © Vince Massimo

Small Skipper ovipositing - Surrey - 3rd July - 2015

Female Underside
Photo © Maximus

Photo Album ...


Conservation Status

The status of the Small Skipper is considered stable and this delightful little skipper has even expanded its distribution slightly in recent years.

UK BAP StatusDistribution Trend (%)Population Trend (%)
Not Listed
Stable-3
Large Decrease-62

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 species inhabits rough grassland, where tall grasses grow, and may occur on roadside verges, beside hedgerows, on overgrown downland, in woodland clearings and along woodland rides. The main foodplant is Yorkshire-fog, a common grass in the British Isles, although other grasses are also used.

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

The adults are on the wing in late June, through July, and into 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 Small Skipper is territorial, and can be found resting on suitable perches from which it intercepts any passing butterfly. The male is the more active of the two sexes; females being more sedentary. Females exhibit unusual behaviour when egg-laying. The female will alight on a dead stem of Yorkshire-fog, and then move backwards down the stem, probing the sheath as she moves. When a suitable opening in the furled sheath has been found, she will lay several eggs inside. Both sexes are nectar-loving, and can be found visiting flowers such as Thistles and Red Clover.

Adults feed primarily on Betony (Stachys officinalis), Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), Bramble (Rubus fruticosus), Dandelion (Taraxacum agg.), Devil's-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis), Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica), Knapweeds (Centaurea spp.), Marjoram (Origanum vulgare), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), Sanfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia), Thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.) and Vetches (Vicia spp.).

Thymelicus sylvestris

Small Skipper Pair - Chaldon, Surrey 6-July-10

Photo © Vince Massimo
06-Jul-2010

Small Skipper - imago - Stockbridge Down - 24-Jul-12

Photo © Pete Eeles
Ovipositing female

Small Skipper, Male, Abbotts Wood, 26/06/2014

Photo © Pauline
26-Jun-2014

Small-Skipper- 5D33215 Notts, July 2015

Photo © IainLeach

Small Skipper - Female - Somerset - 20/07/13

Photo © William
20-Jul-2013

Small Skipper - female - Stockbridge Down - 07-Jul-14-7

Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Jul-2014

Small-Skipper- 5D32280 Notts, July 2015

Photo © IainLeach

Small Skipper - imago - Pamber Forest - 05-Jul-04

Photo © Pete Eeles
05-Jul-2004

Small Skipper Male (showing typical brown undersides to the antennae tips) - Crawley, Sussex 6-July-05

Photo © Vince Massimo
06-Jul-2005

Small Skipper - mating pair - Grovely Wood - 05-07-2015

Photo © Wurzel

Small Skipper Female - Chaldon, Surrey 12-July-10

Photo © Vince Massimo
12-Jul-2010

Small Skipper ovipositing - Surrey - 3rd July - 2015

Photo © Maximus
03-Jul-2015

Small Skipper male - Castle Hills Solihull 06.07.2014

Photo © Neil Freeman
06-Jul-2014

Small Skipper male - Bowleaze Cove Weymouth 29.06.2014

Photo © Neil Freeman
29-Jun-2014

Small Skipper - Chobham Heath 27 06 2009

Photo © sahikmet

Small Skipper Female - Chaldon, Surrey 6-July-10

Photo © Vince Massimo
06-Jul-2010

Small Skipper - Daneway Banks - 27th June - 2015

Photo © Maximus
27-Jun-2015

Small Skipper - imago - Stockbridge Down - 27-Jun-04

Photo © Pete Eeles
28-Jun-2004

Small Skipper - Bentley Wood - 27-6-2009

Photo © Gwenhwyfar
27-Jun-2009

Small skipper female - Castle Hills Solihull 06.07.2014

Photo © Neil Freeman
06-Jul-2014

Photo Album ...


Ovum

As many as 8 oval-shaped eggs may be laid in a row inside a leaf sheath of the foodplant. They are white when first laid, but gradually turn pale yellow. Eggs hatch in around 3 weeks.

Small Skipper - ovum - Stockbridge Down - 24-Jul-12

Photo © Pete Eeles

Small Skipper Eggs found by watching ovipositing female

Photo © Tony Moore
28-Jul-2013

Small Skipper - ovum - Stockbridge Down - 07-Jul-14

Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Jul-2014

Small Skipper Ova, Oxenbourne Down, 15/07/2014

Photo © Pauline
15-Jul-2014

Small Skipper Ova - Somerset - 26/07/14

Photo © William
26-Jul-2014

Small Skipper - ovum - Stockbridge Down - 24-Jul-14

Photo © Pete Eeles
24-Jul-2014

Small Skipper ova, Oxenbourne Down, 13/07/2015

Photo © Pauline
13-Jul-2015

Photo Album ...


Larva

The larva eats its eggshell on hatching, and subsequently spins a dense silk cocoon around itself, still inside the grass sheath. The larva hibernates within the cocoon, alongside other cocoons formed by its siblings. The larva emerges from the cocoon in April to live a solitary existence. It forms a tube by spinning together the edges of a leaf and, in early instars, feeds within the tube. In later instars the larva feeds outside the tube, leaving characteristics notches in the grass blade. The larva will move to new leaves, creating new suitably-sized tubes, as needed. The larva moults 4 times in total.

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

c 1526 Small Skipper larva 10 01#001 [Ben Smart]

Photo © Ben Smart

c 1526 Small Skipper larw 10 21#001 [Ben Smart]

Photo © Ben Smart

c 1526 Small Skipper larw 10 23#001 [Ben Smart]

Photo © Ben Smart

Small Skipper (overwintering larval cocoons) - Chaldon, Surrey 13-Aug-2012

Photo © Vince Massimo
overwintering larval cocoons
13-Aug-2012

Small Skipper - larva - Greenham Common - 22-Aug-12

Photo © Pete Eeles
Overwintering cocoons

Small Skipper - larva - Thatcham - 04-May-13 (1) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles

Small Skipper - larva - Thatcham - 29-Apr-13 (1) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles

Small Skipper - larva - Thatcham - 29-Apr-13 (2) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles

Small Skipper - Hibernating Larvae in Cocoons - Somerset - 18/01/15

Photo © William
18-Jan-2015

Small Skipper larva, Bramshott Common, 07/05/2015

Photo © Pauline
07-May-2015

Photo Album ...


Pupa

When fully-grown, the larva spins a tent of leaves at the base of the foodplant within which it pupates. The pupa is attached to a grass blade within the tent, attached by a silken girdle and the cremaster. The pupal stage lasts around 2 weeks.

c 1526 Small Skipper pupa 10 03#001 [Ben Smart]

Photo © Ben Smart

DSCN9556#001 [Ben Smart]

Photo © Ben Smart

Photo Album ...


Aberrations

Description to be completed.

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

Similar Species

Essex 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)

Large Skipper

Description to be completed.

Lulworth Skipper

Description to be completed.

Videos


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The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.

References

The species description provided here references the following publications:

ReferenceDetails
Hübner (1819) Hübner, J. (1819) Verzeichniss bekannter Schmettlinge.
Latreille (1809) Latreille, P.A. (1809) Genera crustaceorum et insectorum secundum ordinem naturalem in familias disposita, iconibus exemplisque plurimis explicata.
Poda (1761) Poda von Neuhaus, N. (1761) Insecta musei Graecensis.