Essex Skipper

  • Essex Skipper (male/upperwing)
    Essex Skipper (male/upperwing)
  • Essex Skipper (underwing)
    Essex Skipper (underwing)
  • Essex Skipper (female/upperwing)
    Essex Skipper (female/upperwing)
  • Essex Skipper (male/upperwing)
    Essex Skipper (male/upperwing)
  • Essex Skipper (underwing)
    Essex Skipper (underwing)
  • Essex Skipper (female/upperwing)
    Essex Skipper (female/upperwing)

Scientific name: Thymelicus lineola

The Essex Skipper is a small butterfly, widespread in England and Wales. It has a darting flight and holds the forewings angled above the hind wings.

The bright orange-brown upperwings have a black border and faint black lines. The underwings are plain and paler in colour.

The male can be distinguied from the female by the thin black line of scent scales through the centre of the forewing, parallel to the leading edge. It actively patrols its territories, while the female is conspicuous. They both nectar from flowers such as Red Clover and Thistles and rest and bask on grass stems.

The Essex Skipper is easily confused with the Small Skipper, which is very similar but lacks the glossy black-tipped antenna (best viewed head on). It also has a longer scent mark, angled to the edge of the forewing and it is slightly more orange that the Essex Skipper. Because of the similarities, the Essex Skipper has been overlooked both in terms of recording and ecological study, and it was the last British resident species to be described (in 1889).

The pale-coloured eggs are laid in a tight leaf sheath. They darken within a few days, turning a creamy yelllow and after three weeks turn white, with the head visible through the shell as a dark spot. The fully-grown caterpillar overwinters in the egg. 

The caterpillar emerges in the spring and starts feeding on the foodplant. After a few days it forms a tube, pulling the edges of a leaf together with silk threads where it hides when not feeding.

The caterpillar moults five times and, at the end of this stage of its lifecycle is pale green, striped with dark green down the back and yellow along the sides. It forms a tent of leaves and silk threads, where it pupates over three weeks. The chrysalis is yellow-green in colour.

The distribution of the Essex Skipper in Britain has more than doubled in the last few decades, helped, it is believed, by the steep grass embankments of motorways and trunk roads, which provide corridors to new locations for the butterfly. It can be found - despite its name - throughout south-east England as far west as Dorset and Somerset, and north up into the Midlands. It lives in colonies of up to several thousand.

Size and Family

  • Family: Skippers
  • Size: Small 
  • Wing Span Range (male to female) - 27-30mm

Conservation Status

  • Butterfly Conservation priority: Low
  • Low European Status: Not threatened

Caterpillar Foodplants

The main species used is Cock’s-foot (Dactylis glomerata), although the butterfly may use several other grasses including Creeping Soft-grass (Holcus mollis), Common Couch (Elytrigia repens), Timothy (Phleum pratense), Meadow Foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis), False Brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum), and Tor-grass (B. pinnatum). It rarely uses Yorkshire-fog (Holcus lanatus), the preferred foodplant of the Small Skipper.

Lifecycle

Habitat

The buttterfly is found in open sunny situations, such as tall, dry grasslands, roadside verges, disused railway lines, woodland rides and acid grasslands, as well as coastal marshes.

Distribution

  • Countries: England and Wales
  • Widespread in southern and central England, but not in far south-west
  • Distribution Trend Since 1970’s = Britain: +46%

Factsheets

Similar species