Monday, December 3, 2012

Silver-Spotted Skipper

With the unseasonably warm weather we've been experiencing here in NW Missouri it puts me in mind of spring and butterflies. One of my favorites is the very common, yet beautiful Silver-Spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus). When I say common, I literally mean dirt common, they are everywhere in the spring and summer all over Missouri. They can be found in backyard gardens, open fields, prairies, parks, you name the place and these butterflies are sure to be there.These butterflies belong to the family Hesperiidae, which are the skippers. Silver-spotted skippers are the largest skipper in North America with a wingspan up to 2 5/8 inches. This may not seem large, but by skipper standards it is quite huge. Most skippers have a wingspan of one inch or a bit more.

Identifying them is much easier than other skippers which can be confusing even to the experts. Silver-spotted skippers are chocolate brown with orangish blocky spots on the forewings and silvery-white spots on the underwings. It is this silvery-white spot that earned them their common name.

Like all butterflies they are diurnal, flying about during the day nectaring at a wide variety of flowers, including clover, coneflowers, thistles, blazing star and others. They seem to prefer flowers that are red, pink, purple, blue or white. At night they rest underneath leaves of plants or trees which effectively hides them from night creatures that may want to dine on them. It will also shield them from heavy overnight dew.

With few exceptions, butterflies are often part of the diet of many predators including birds, frogs, small mammals, and spiders. Exceptions would be monarchs, pipevine swallowtails, etc. that glean toxins from the plants they consume as caterpillars. Skippers have no such toxins and therefore fall victim to many predators. Spiders in particular are excellent at capturing these butterflies as they hide on flowers waiting for passing butterflies to alight and begin nectaring. The spider will very stealthily approach the butterfly, unseen, and reach out with their front legs and sink their fangs in and give a venomous bite, This bite is designed to subdue the prey and turn the insides of their prey into a nutritious, liquidy, buggy milkshake that the spider will slurp up with relish.

(Flower crab spider feeding on silver-spotted skipper)

Males will perch on branches of low lying bushes or on tall plants to wait for females to fly by. Once a receptive female has been mated, she will lay eggs one at a time on the leaves of the host plant which are black locust, honey locust, and false indigo. With all the honey and black locust trees found throughout the state it explains why these butterflies are so prolific in our state. They certainly have plenty for them to eat. Even the drought we have been experiencing since June did not affect them to the degree it did other butterflies and insects. For obvious reasons, droughts are hard on all animals, even insects. With no rain, plants cannot grow or continue to produce. This causes a lack of food sources available to the females, so therefore there will be no subsequent generations until the rain returns. 

Who knows with the 65 and 70 degree weather we've been having, I might not have to wait until spring to see a butterfly.


  1. Yes, such mild weather is bringing out my butterflies and other critters.
    You have a lovely lovely blog here. i'll visit again. Thanks for the pictures.

  2. I like Skippers and love going back to my pond to photograph them. We certainly are having a mild winter (I'm in north-central MO), but I'm not complaining at all! :-)