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.
This species was first defined in Ochsenheimer (1808) as shown here (type locality: Germany).
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.
This species is found in rough grassland, including road verges, woodland rides, chalk grassland and embankments.
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.
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.
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.
Description to be completed.
Click here to see a full list of aberrations for this species.
Photo © Peter Klein
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.
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 4 moults in total.
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.
Description to be completed.
Description to be completed.
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)
Click here to see the distribution of this species overlaid with specific site information. Alternatively, select one of the sites listed below.
|Arlington Reservoir, Aspal Close, Banstead Woods, Beachy Head, Bedfont Lakes Country Park LNR, Carymoor Environmental Centre, Durlston NNR, Fleam Dyke, Hockley Woods, Horsenden Hill, Hounslow Heath LNR, Latton Woods, Malling Down, Marks Hall Estate, Millenium Arboretum, Moors Valley Country Park, Old Winchester Hill, Pamber Forest, Pulborough Brooks (RSPB), Rookery, Ryton Woods Meadows, Stockbridge Down, Warnham LNR, Windover Hill, Winsdon Hill|
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.
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: