Skipper (butterfly)

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Pelopidas sp.jpg
Pelopidas sp. (Hesperiinae)
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Superfamily: Papilionoidea
Family: Hesperiidae
Latreille, 1809
Type species
Hesperia comma
7–8 subfamilies, about 550 genera

Skippers are a family of the Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) named the Hesperiidae. Being diurnal, they are generally called butterflies. They were previously placed in a separate superfamily, Hesperioidea; however, the most recent taxonomy places the family in the superfamily Papilionoidea, the butterflies. They are named for their quick, darting flight habits. Most have their antenna tips modified into narrow, hook-like projections. Moreover, skippers mostly have an absence of wing-coupling structure available in most moths. [1] More than 3500 species of skippers are recognized, and they occur worldwide, but with the greatest diversity in the Neotropical regions of Central and South America. [2]


Description and systematics

Plate from Biologia Centrali-Americana showing Pyrginae (3 at right center -- black and blue-brown) and Eudaminae (the others) CogiaTyphedanus.jpg
Plate from Biologia Centrali-Americana showing Pyrginae (3 at right center black and blue-brown) and Eudaminae (the others)

Traditionally, the Hesperiidae were placed in a monotypic superfamily Hesperioidea, because they are morphologically distinct from other Rhopalocera (butterflies), which mostly belong to the typical butterfly superfamily Papilionoidea. The third and rather small butterfly superfamily is the moth-butterflies (Hedyloidea), which are restricted to the Neotropics, but recent phylogenetic analyses suggest the traditional Papilionoidea are paraphyletic, thus the subfamilies should be reorganised to reflect true cladistic relationships. [3] [4]

Collectively, these three groups of butterflies share many characteristics, especially in the egg, larval, and pupal stages. [2] Nevertheless, skippers have the antennae clubs hooked backward like a crochet hook, while the typical butterflies have club-like tips to their antennae, and moth-butterflies have feathered or pectinate (comb-shaped) antennae similar to moths. Skippers also have generally stockier bodies and larger compound eyes than the other two groups, with stronger wing muscles in the plump thorax, in this resembling many moths more than the other two butterfly lineages do. Unlike, for example, the Arctiinae, though, their wings are usually small in proportion to their bodies. Some have larger wings, but only rarely as large in proportion to the body as in other butterflies. When at rest, skippers keep their wings usually angled upwards or spread out, and only rarely fold them up completely. [2]

Signeta flammeata (Trapezitinae) Signeta flammeata (ento-csiro-au).jpg
Signeta flammeata (Trapezitinae)
Mating pair of Oberthur's Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus armoricanus) Ciftlesen zipzip kelebekleri.jpg
Mating pair of Oberthür's Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus armoricanus)

The wings are usually well-rounded with more or less sharply tipped forewings. Some have prominent hindwing tails, and others have more angled wings; the skippers' basic wing shapes vary not much by comparison to the Papilionoidea, though. Most have a fairly drab coloration of browns and greys; some are more boldly black-and-white. Yellow, red, and blue hues are less often found, but some largely brown species are quite richly colored, too. Green colors and metallic iridescence are generally absent. Sexual dichromatism is present in some; males may have a blackish streak or patch of scent scales on their forewings. [2]

Skipper on a flower in Tokyo

Many species of skippers look very alike. For example, some species in the genera Amblyscirtes , Erynnis (duskywings), and Hesperia (branded skippers) cannot currently be distinguished in the field even by experts. The only reliable method of telling them apart involves dissection and microscopic examination of the genitalia, which have characteristic structures that prevent mating except between conspecifics. [2]


The regent skipper (Euschemon rafflesia) is the most distinct skipper, forming a subfamily of its own. Euschemon rafflesia (ento-csiro-au).jpg
The regent skipper (Euschemon rafflesia) is the most distinct skipper, forming a subfamily of its own.

The roughly 3500 species of skippers are now classified in these subfamilies: [5]

Related Research Articles

A common classification of the Lepidoptera involves their differentiation into butterflies and moths. Butterflies are a natural monophyletic group, often given the suborder Rhopalocera, which includes Papilionoidea, Hesperiidae (skippers), and Hedylidae. In this taxonomic scheme, moths belong to the suborder Heterocera. Other taxonomic schemes have been proposed, the most common putting the butterflies into the suborder Ditrysia and then the "superfamily" Papilionoidea and ignoring a classification for moths.

Papilionoidea Superfamily of butterflies

The superfamily Papilionoidea contains all the butterflies except for the moth-like Hedyloidea.

Riodinidae Butterfly family containing the metalmarks

Riodinidae is the family of metalmark butterflies. The common name "metalmarks" refers to the small, metallic-looking spots commonly found on their wings. The 1532 species are placed in 146 genera. Although mostly Neotropical in distribution, the family is also represented both in the Nearctic, Palearctic, Australasian (Dicallaneura), Afrotropic, and Indomalayan realms.

Grass skippers Subfamily of butterflies

Grass skippers or banded skippers are butterflies of the subfamily Hesperiinae, part of the skipper family, Hesperiidae. The subfamily was established by Pierre André Latreille in 1809.

Spread-winged skipper Subfamily of butterflies

Pyrginae, commonly known as spread-winged skippers, are a subfamily of the skipper butterfly family (Hesperiidae). The subfamily was established by Hermann Burmeister in 1878. Their delimitation and internal systematics has changed considerably in recent years, but as of 2009 the uncertainties surrounding the evolutionary relationships of many genera in this subfamily are widely resolved.

William Harry Evans

Brigadier William Harry Evans CSI CIE DSO was a lepidopterist and British Army officer who served in India. He documented the butterfly fauna of India, Burma and Ceylon in a series of articles in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. Brigadier Evans was especially interested in the taxonomy and systematics of the butterfly families Lycaenidae and Hesperiidae an example being his A revision of the Arhopala group of Oriental Lycaenidae Bull. British Mus. , Ent., vol. 5: pp. 85–141 (1957).

<i>Gomalia elma</i> Species of butterfly

Gomalia is a monotypic genus of hesperiid butterfly. Gomalia elma, the marbled skipper or African marbled skipper, is found in Africa and parts of Asia.

<i>Oriens concinna</i> Species of butterfly

Oriens concinna, the Tamil dartlet, is a skipper butterfly belonging to the family Hesperiidae. It is a rare find in India and Australia. In India, it is found in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Hedylidae Family of moth-like butterflies

Hedylidae, the "American moth-butterflies", is a family of insects in the order Lepidoptera, representing the superfamily Hedyloidea. They have traditionally been viewed as an extant sister group of the butterfly superfamily Papilionoidea. In 1986, Scoble combined all species into a single genus Macrosoma, comprising 35 currently recognized and entirely Neotropical species, as a novel concept of butterflies.

Butterfly evolution is the origin and diversification of butterflies through geologic time and over a large portion of the Earth's surface. The earliest known butterfly fossils are from the mid Eocene epoch, between 40-50 million years ago. Their development is closely linked to the evolution of flowering plants, since both adult butterflies and caterpillars feed on flowering plants. Of the 220,000 species of Lepidoptera, about 45,000 species are butterflies, which probably evolved from moths. Butterflies are found throughout the world, except in Antarctica, and are especially numerous in the tropics; they fall into eight different families.

Ancistroidini Tribe of butterflies

The Ancistroidini are a tribe in the Hesperiinae subfamily of skipper butterflies. They are often blackish in base color; several of the genera contain the species commonly called "demon butterflies" or "demon skippers". As most Hesperiinae have not yet been assigned to tribes, more genera are likely to be placed into this presently rather small group eventually.

Trapezitinae Subfamily of butterflies

Trapezitinae is a subfamily of the Hesperiidae ("skippers") family of butterflies. They are found only in New Guinea and Australia. The subfamily contains about 60 species in 16 genera.

Giant skipper Subfamily of butterflies

The giant skippers are butterflies in the disputed subfamily Megathyminae, which is part of the skipper family. Some authorities treat this as a distinct and separate subfamily, but more modern classifications tend to place them within the subfamily Hesperiinae. However, some works, such as the Integrated Taxonomic Information System, still treat is as a valid subfamily. The giant skippers include two tribes, Aegialini and Megathymini. There are three genera and about eighteen species in this subfamily. These butterflies typically live in the southwest United States and Mexico in desert areas.

<i>Agathymus</i> Genus of butterflies

Agathymus is a genus of butterflies in the skipper family, Hesperiidae. They occur in the North American deserts. The genus was described by Hugh Avery Freeman in 1959. The larvae bore into the stems of agave plants.

<i>Dalla</i> (skipper) Genus of butterflies

Dalla is a genus of skippers in the family Hesperiidae.

<i>Decinea</i> Genus of butterflies

Decinea is a Neotropical genus of skippers in the family Hesperiidae.

Pamphilites is an extinct genus of skippers in the family Hesperiidae. It contains only one fossil species, Pamphilites abdita, recovered from the Tertiary of Aix-en-Provence, France.

Piruna is a genus of skippers in the family Hesperiidae.

Acraea simulator is a butterfly in the family Nymphalidae. It is found in Cameroon. For taxonomy see Pierre & Bernaud, 2014


  1. "Skipper | lepidopteran family". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-10-02.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Ackery et al. (1999)
  3. Heikkilä et al. (2012)
  4. Kawahara & Breinholt (2014)
  5. Brower & Warren (2008)

Further reading