Skippers are a family of small to medium-sized butterflies that are usually brown or dull orange. They can be easily identified by the way they hold their wings and the curved bulbs at the end of their antennae. While identifying a skipper to a specific species can be challenging, there are some species like the sachem skipper and the silver-spotted skipper that are relatively easier to identify.

Skippers are often overlooked because they are smaller and less colorful than other butterfly species. However, there are over 50 species of skippers recorded in Kentucky alone. In this article, we will explore the characteristics of skippers, tips for identifying them, common skipper species, their life cycle, and their role in the ecosystem.

Key Takeaways:

  • Skippers are small to medium-sized butterflies that are usually brown or dull orange.
  • They can be identified by their wing position and curved bulbs at the end of their antennae.
  • Identifying a skipper to a specific species can be challenging, but there are some easier species to identify.
  • There are over 50 species of skippers recorded in Kentucky alone.
  • Skippers play an important role in the ecosystem as pollinators and prey for other animals.

Characteristics of Skippers

Skippers are unique butterflies with distinct characteristics that set them apart from other species. Understanding these characteristics can help in identifying and appreciating these fascinating insects.

Wing Positioning

When landed, skippers hold their back wings flat like a table top, while their front wings are angled up, resembling sails on a ship. This wing positioning is a key characteristic of skippers and can be observed in various species.

Antennae Bulbs

The bulbs at the end of a skipper’s antennae are curved, adding to their distinctive appearance. These curved bulbs serve as sensory organs, helping skippers navigate their surroundings and locate food sources.

Size and Coloration

Skippers are generally small to medium-sized butterflies, with wings in shades of brown or dull orange. While they may not exhibit the vibrant colors of some other butterfly species, skippers have their own understated beauty.

Flight Pattern

Skippers are known for their jerky and erratic flight pattern, often compared to skipping through the air. This unique flight behavior adds to their charm and makes them easily identifiable when in motion.

Feeding Habits

Adult skippers feed on a variety of flowers, sipping nectar as their source of energy. These butterflies play an important role in pollination as they move from flower to flower in search of nectar.

Caterpillar Diet

The caterpillars of most skipper species feed on grasses, making them ecologically important for maintaining the balance of grass populations. By consuming grasses, skipper caterpillars contribute to the overall health and diversity of their habitats.

Now that we have explored the characteristics of skippers, let’s move on to the next section, where we will delve into effective methods for identifying these remarkable butterflies.

Identifying Skippers

Identifying skipper butterflies can be challenging due to their similar appearance. However, there are some key characteristics that can help in their identification.

  1. Wing Position: When landed, skippers hold their back wings flat, resembling a table top, while their front wings are angled up, resembling sails on a ship. This unique wing position is a distinctive feature of skippers.
  2. Antennae: Skippers have curved bulbs at the end of their antennae. Observing these curved bulbs can further aid in their identification.
  3. Size, Color, and Markings: Pay attention to the size, color, and markings on the wings of the skippers. These characteristics can vary among different species and help differentiate them.
  4. Habitat: Take note of the habitat where skipper butterflies are found. Some species have specific habitat preferences, which can provide additional clues for identification.

In case of difficulty, consulting a field guide or reaching out to a local butterfly expert can be exceptionally helpful in accurately identifying skipper species.

skipper butterfly identification

“Identifying skipper butterflies requires a keen eye for their unique wing position, antennae shape, and distinctive size, color, and markings. With careful observation and consultation from experts, you can confidently distinguish one skipper species from another.”

Common Skipper Species

Skippers are a diverse group of butterflies, with numerous species found in different regions. Here are some common skipper species:

  1. Sachem Skipper
  2. Silver-Spotted Skipper
  3. Fiery Skipper
  4. Peck’s Skipper
  5. Least Skipper
  6. Delaware Skipper

Each of these skipper species can be identified based on their unique characteristics, including size, wing coloration, and markings. Additionally, they may exhibit different behaviors and flight patterns.

Let’s take a closer look at these common skipper species:

SpeciesSizeWing ColorationMarkings
Sachem SkipperSmall to medium-sizedOrange-brownDark markings on wings
Silver-Spotted SkipperMedium-sizedBrownSilver spots on wings
Fiery SkipperSmallOrange-brownDistinctive orange markings on wings
Peck’s SkipperSmallOrange-brownDark markings on wings
Least SkipperSmallBrownNo distinctive markings
Delaware SkipperSmall to medium-sizedBrownDistinctive light-colored markings on wings

Each species may have specific host plants for their caterpillars to feed on. By observing these physical features and understanding their behaviors, you’ll be able to identify these skipper species with greater ease.

Skipper Butterfly Life Cycle

The life cycle of skippers follows the typical butterfly life cycle. Understanding the various stages of their development is crucial for skipper butterfly identification methods. Let’s explore each stage in detail:

Egg Stage:

In the first stage, the female skipper butterflies lay their tiny eggs on host plants, which are usually grasses for most skipper species. The eggs are usually laid on the underside of leaves, adding an extra layer of protection. These eggs are difficult to spot due to their small size and camouflage.

Caterpillar Stage:

Once the eggs hatch, the caterpillars emerge. They are voracious eaters and their primary source of food is the host plant on which they were laid. As they continue to feed, caterpillars go through several molts, shedding their skin and growing larger with each molt. This stage is crucial for skipper butterfly identification as caterpillars may exhibit distinct patterns and colors, helping in species recognition.

Chrysalis Stage:

After the caterpillars have undergone their final molt, they enter the chrysalis stage. The caterpillar attaches itself to a secure location, such as a leaf or stem, and forms a protective casing around its body. Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar undergoes metamorphosis, during which its body transforms into that of an adult butterfly. The chrysalis stage can vary in duration depending on the species and environmental conditions.

Adult Butterfly Stage:

After the completion of metamorphosis, the adult skipper butterfly emerges from the chrysalis. At this stage, the butterfly has fully developed wings and reproductive organs. The adult skippers have a short lifespan, usually ranging from a few days to a few weeks, during which they mate and lay eggs for the next generation.

skipper butterfly identification methods

The skipper butterfly life cycle is a remarkable transformation from an egg to a caterpillar, then a chrysalis, and finally an adult butterfly. Understanding the different stages plays a crucial role in skipper butterfly identification methods.

Skippers in the Ecosystem

Skippers play a vital role in the ecosystem, contributing to both pollination and the food chain. These fascinating butterflies visit a variety of flowers, collecting nectar as they go. Their interactions with flowers facilitate pollination, ensuring the reproduction and diversity of plant species.

As caterpillars, skippers have a unique diet. They feed primarily on grasses, which are abundant in many habitats. By consuming grasses, skippers aid in the control of grass populations, helping to maintain a healthy balance within the ecosystem.

Skippers also serve as a crucial source of food for other animals. Predators such as birds, reptiles, and spiders rely on skippers as part of their natural diet. Their presence in an ecosystem indicates a thriving and diverse habitat that supports a wide range of species.

Overall, skippers contribute to the intricate web of life, playing their part in the pollination process, maintaining grass populations, and sustaining the food chain.

Skippers in the EcosystemRole
PollinationSkippers visit various flowers, contributing to pollination and plant reproduction.
Grass Population BalanceAs caterpillars, skippers feed on grasses, helping to regulate grass populations in their habitats.
Food SourceSkippers serve as prey for predators such as birds, reptiles, and spiders, contributing to the food chain.

Creating a Butterfly-Friendly Garden

To attract and support skipper butterflies in your garden, follow these tips:

  1. Plant nectar-rich flowers: Choose a variety of flowers that bloom throughout the season, including different shapes and colors. This will attract a wide range of butterfly species, including skipper butterflies.
  2. Provide host plants: Include different species of grasses in your garden to provide host plants for skipper caterpillars. This will encourage them to lay eggs and support their life cycle.
  3. Avoid pesticides: Refrain from using pesticides in your garden, as they can harm butterflies and their caterpillars. Instead, opt for natural pest control methods or create a balanced ecosystem where beneficial insects can thrive.
  4. Create a water source: Set up a shallow dish with rocks in your garden to provide a water source for butterflies. This allows them to drink and helps maintain their hydration.
  5. Provide sunny, sheltered spots: Place rocks or logs in your garden to create warm resting areas for butterflies. These spots provide shelter from wind and predators, making your garden more inviting for skipper butterflies.

By implementing these tips, you can create a welcoming environment that attracts skipper butterflies and supports their population in your area.

Creating a butterfly-friendly garden is not only beneficial for skipper butterflies but also for the overall biodiversity of your garden. By providing a variety of plants and habitats, you will attract a diverse range of butterfly species and contribute to the conservation of these beautiful insects.


Spotting and identifying skipper butterflies can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. By familiarizing yourself with their characteristics, habitats, and behaviors, you can easily distinguish them from other butterfly species. Utilize field guides and online resources for accurate identification.

In addition, creating a butterfly-friendly garden with suitable nectar sources and host plants can attract various skipper species and contribute to their conservation. By providing a welcoming habitat, you can support the survival and proliferation of these beautiful butterflies. Remember to include a diverse range of nectar-rich flowers and grasses as host plants.

So, grab your binoculars and get ready to observe the fascinating world of skipper butterflies. With the right knowledge and environment, you can become a skilled skipper butterfly enthusiast and contribute to the preservation of these enchanting creatures.

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Last Update: December 29, 2023