Dingy Skipper

  • Dingy Skipper (upperwing)
    Dingy Skipper (upperwing)
  • Dingy Skipper (male & female)
    Dingy Skipper (male & female)
  • Dingy Skipper (egg)
    Dingy Skipper (egg)
  • Dingy Skipper (upperwing)
    Dingy Skipper (upperwing)
  • Dingy Skipper (male & female)
    Dingy Skipper (male & female)
  • Dingy Skipper (egg)
    Dingy Skipper (egg)

Scientific name: Erynnis tages

This small brown and grey butterfly is found in Britain and Ireland and is becoming increasingly rare. It is moth-like in appearance and extremely well camouflaged on the bare ground on which it like to bask.

When freshly emerged, its grey-brown wings are mottled with beautiful intricate brown markings on both sides, a row of small white spots on the upperwings, and a pale grey-white fringe on the edges of the wings, although these markings fade with age. The Grizzled Skipper butterfly is similar in size, but has brighter black and white markings. It can also be confused with the Mother Shipton and Burnet Companion moths, which sometimes occur on the same sites at the same time.

In sunshine, the Dingy Skipper often basks on bare ground or stones with its wings spread wide. In dull weather and at night, it perches on the tops of dead flowerheads, in a moth-like fashion with its wings curved over the flowerhead in a position not seen in any other British butterfly. It nectars on yellow flowers, particularly Bird's-foot Trefoil, Horseshoe Vetch, Buttercup and Hawkweeds but shelters in taller plants, such as Bramble. It has a very fast, low, darting flight.

The greenish-white eggs are dome-shaped and are laid singly. They change in colour to a bright orange, so can be easily found where the leaves join the stem of Horseshoe Vetch, Bird's-foot Trefoil or Greater Bird's-foot Trefoil. This stage of the lifecycle lasts around two weeks.

The freshly-emerged caterpillar immediately forms a loose tent near the ground with leaflets and silk threads. It moults four times, changing in colour from yellow to various shades of green, with a purplish-black head. In late July it then forms a more substantial tent in which to hibernate.

In spring the caterpillar pupates into a chrysalis, emerging as a butterfly from mid-May.

The Dingy Skipper is locally distributed throughout Britain and Ireland, but has declined seriously in recent years.

Size and Family

  • Family: Skippers
  • Size: Small
  • Wing Span Range (male to female): 29mm

Conservation Status

  • Section 41 species of principal importance under the NERC Act in England
  • Section 42 species of principal importance under the NERC Act in Wales
  • Northern Ireland Priority Species 
  • Scottish Biodiversity List
  • UK BAP status: Priority Species
  • Butterfly Conservation priority: High              
  • European status: Not threatened
  • Fully protected under the Northern Ireland 1985 Wildlife Order. 

Caterpillar Foodplants

Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) is the usual foodplant in all habitats. Horseshoe Vetch (Hippocrepis comosa) is also used on chalky soils, and Greater Bird’s-foot-trefoil (L. pedunculatus) is used on heavier soils.

Lifecycle

Habitat

Dingy Skipper colonies occur in a wide range of open, sunny habitats including chalk downland, woodland rides and clearings, coastal habitats such as dunes and undercliffs, heathland, disused quarries and railway lines and waste ground.

Suitable conditions occur where foodplants grow in sparsely grassed areas, often with patches of bare ground and in a sunny, sheltered situation. Taller vegetation is also required for shelter and roosting. 

Distribution

  • Countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland
  • Found throughout Britain, but in Scotland it is very restricted and found mainly on the coasts in the far south and in the Moray Firth area in the north.
  • Distribution Trend Since 1970’s = Britain: -48%

Factsheets

Similar species