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Butterfly taxonomy (classification) The skippers The swallowtails The whites The hairstreaks, coppers and blues. Includes the Duke of Burgundy. The nymphalids, fritillaries and browns. Includes the Monarch.
Small Skipper Male - Crawley, Sussex 28-June-05
Wingspan
27 - 34mm
Photo © Vince Massimo
Small Skipper

Thymelicus sylvestris
thy-ME-lee-kuss
sill-VESS-triss
Number: 57.006
B&F No.: 1526
Family:Hesperiidae (Latreille, 1809)
Subfamily:Hesperiinae (Latreille, 1809)
Tribe: 
Genus:Thymelicus (Hübner, 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 male - Bowleaze Cove Weymouth 29.06.2014
Male
Photo © nfreem
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 (f)(u)  Harmondsworth Moor, Middlesex  15th July 2011
Female Underside
Photo © millerd

  Phenology  

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.


  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.

  Larval Foodplants  

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.

  Nectar Sources  

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.).

  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.


Small Skipper - Bentley Wood - 27-6-2009
Photo © Gwenhwyfar
27-Jun-2009
Small Skipper - Bentley Wood - 5-6-2009
Photo © Gwenhwyfar
05-Jul-2009
Small Skipper Female - Crawley, Sussex 8-July-05
Photo © Vince Massimo
08-Jul-2005
Small Skipper Male - Crawley, Sussex 28-June-05
Photo © Vince Massimo
28-Jun-2005
Small Skipper Male - Crawley, Sussex 28-June-05
Photo © Vince Massimo
28-Jun-2005
Small Skipper Male (showing typical brown undersides to the antennae tips) - Crawley, Sussex 6-July-05
Photo © Vince Massimo
06-Jul-2005
Small Skipper - imago - Noar Hill - 25-Jul-04.jpg (1)
Photo © Pete Eeles
25-Jul-2004
Small Skipper - imago - Pamber Forest - 05-Jul-04
Photo © Pete Eeles
05-Jul-2004
Small Skipper - imago - Stockbridge Down - 27-Jun-04
Photo © Pete Eeles
28-Jun-2004
Small Skipper - Chobham Heath 27 06 2009
Photo © sahikmet
Small Skipper Pair - Chaldon, Surrey 6-July-10
Photo © Vince Massimo
06-Jul-2010
Small Skipper Female - Chaldon, Surrey 6-July-10
Photo © Vince Massimo
06-Jul-2010
Small Skipper Female - Chaldon, Surrey 12-July-10
Photo © Vince Massimo
12-Jul-2010
Small Skipper - imago - Stockbridge Down - 29-Jun-11 (1)
Photo © Pete Eeles
Small Skipper (f)(u)  Harmondsworth Moor, Middlesex  15th July 2011
Photo © millerd
15-Jul-2011
Small Skipper, Male, 27/06/2012, Wrecclesham
Photo © Pauline
27-Jun-2012
Small Skipper (male), Surrey (5 July 2012)
Photo © Mark Colvin
05-Jul-2012
Small Skipper - imago - Stockbridge Down - 24-Jul-12-2
Photo © Pete Eeles
Ovipositing female
Small Skipper pair - Sussex 13-July-2012
Photo © Neil Hulme
13-Jul-2012
Small Skipper, Female, ovi-posting, Oxenbourne Down, 26/07/2013
Photo © Pauline
25-Jul-2013
Small Skipper - Female - Somerset - 20/07/13
Photo © William
20-Jul-2013
Small Skipper - Close Up - Somerset - 21/07/13
Photo © William
21-Jul-2013
Small Skipper - Somerset - 21/07/13
Photo © William
21-Jul-2013
Small Skipper, Male, Abbotts Wood, 26/06/2014
Photo © Pauline
26-Jun-2014
Small Skipper, Male, Abbotts Wood, 26/06/2014
Photo © Pauline
26-Jun-2014
Small Skipper - female - Stockbridge Down - 07-Jul-14-5
Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Jul-2014
Small Skipper - female - Stockbridge Down - 07-Jul-14-7
Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Jul-2014
Small Skipper - female - Stockbridge Down - 07-Jul-14-8
Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Jul-2014
Small Skipper - female - Stockbridge Down - 07-Jul-14
Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Jul-2014
Small Skipper - male - Stockbridge Down - 07-Jul-14
Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Jul-2014
Small Skipper male - Bowleaze Cove Weymouth 29.06.2014
Photo © nfreem
29-Jun-2014
Small Skipper - Noar Hill - 27th July - 2014
Photo © Maximus
27-Jul-2014

  Aberrations  

Description to be completed.

Click here to see a full list of aberrations for this species.

ab. pallida (Tutt.Brit.Lep.1906.8.p.107.)

= margarita Frohawk.Vars.Brit Butts.1938,p.195.p1.47.f.2

The ground colour extremely pale, yellowish-white. Tutt's pallida was bone-coloured or whitish, tinged with yellow. Frohawk's margarita was yellowish-white. Lempke includes ardens Oberthur as a synonym but Oberthur says that this was an aberration of T.lineola.


Small Skipper ab. pallida. Edrington Berwickshire. Scotland. July 2nd 2010. IAC.
Photo © IAC
02-Jul-2010
Small Skipper ab pallida. Edrington, Berwickshire,Scotland,2nd July 2011.
Photo © IAC
Second year running the ab has been seen in the same concentration of Skippers.
02-Jul-2011

  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

  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.


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

  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

  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  

Video © John Chapple
Small Skipper

  Sites  

Click here to see the distribution of this species overlaid with specific site information. Alternatively, select one of the sites listed below.

Sites
Arlington Reservoir, Arnside Knott, Ashampstead Common, Badbury Rings, Banstead Woods, Beachy Head, Bedfont Lakes Country Park LNR, Bentley Wood, Bishop Middleham Quarry, Chobham Common, Coombe Heath, Cuerden Valley Park, Darlands Banks LNR, Durlston NNR, Ellerburn Bank, Fleam Dyke, Horsenden Hill, Hounslow Heath LNR, Latton Woods, Laughton Common Wood, Lower Woods, Malling Down, Mansmead wood, Mayford Pond, Meanwood Park, Mill Hill, Millenium Arboretum, Moors Valley Country Park, Moss Field, Mynydd Marian, Nupend Wood, Old Down, Basingstoke, Pulborough Brooks (RSPB), Redscar and Tunbrook Woods, Ryton Woods Meadows, Windover Hill

  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 ListedStable-3Large 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).


  Links  

The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.

  References  

The species description provided here references the following publications:

ReferenceDetails
Poda (1761) Poda von Neuhaus, N.: Insecta musei Graecensis. 1761.

  Copyright © Peter Eeles 2002-2014
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