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A Comprehensive Guide to the Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)

Introduction to the Silver-spotted Skipper

The Silver-spotted Skipper is one of the most wide ranging skippers in North America. It is a member of the family Hesperiidae and is in the subfamily Pyrginae. This butterfly was first named and described by Pieter Cramer, a Dutch entomologist and merchant in De Uitlandsche Kapallen (1775). A brown skipper with yellow rectangular markings on the forewings and white spots on the hindwings it generally uses plants from the Legume Family (Fabaceae).

Taxonomy and Naming of the Silver-spotted Skipper

Silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) on Lantana.
Silver-Spotted Skipper on Lantana — Robert Coxe, Image

Taxonomy

This skipper was first named and described by Pieter Cramer, a Dutch Entomologist and Merchant, in De Uitlandsche Kapallen (1775). This book was one of the first to use the new Linnean classification system for insects. The specimen described was from northwestern Virginia in Rockingham County (Butterflies of America). This skipper is a member of the family Hesperiidae and is in the subfamily Pyrginae.

Subspecies

  • Epargyreus clarus ssp. californicus (Art Shapiro’s Butterfly Site): located along the west coast of the United States.
  • Epargyreus clarus ssp. clarus : The most common and widespread type.
  • Epargyreus clarus ssp. huachuca (Dixon 1955): Located in Arizona, is now considered its own separate species (Zhang, Jing, et al 2020)
  • Epargyreus clarus ssp. profugus (Zhang, Jing, et al 2020) : This is now considered part of the E. huachuca species concept.

Meaning of the Scientific and Common Names

Scientific Name

The genus name, Epargyreus, comes from a Greek word, “argyros,” which means silver (Wikipedia). The silver is in reference to the prominent white spots on the hindwings. The species name, clarus, is a Latin word for clarity or conspicuousness and presumably refers to the distinctive marking of the skipper.

Common Name

The common name refers to the silvery white spot on the hindwings.

Physical Description of Silver-spotted Skipper

Silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) on beige background.
Silver-spotted Skipper — IvanTortuga, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Description

  • Color: The silver-spotted skipper is a brown butterfly with distinctive yellow to yellow-orange markings on the forewings and silvery white spots on the hindwings.
  • Wingspan: 1.75 to 2.75 inches
  • Active Flying Time: This skipper flies from April to September in the north and February to December in the south with 1 to 4 broods depending on location (butterfliesandmoths.org). Generally the further south the more the broods.

Lifecycle of this Butterfly

Caterpillar of Silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) on a leaf.
Silver-spotted Skipper Caterpillar — Judy Gallagher, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Eggs

The eggs of this butterfly are circular and a green color with a red top.

Larvae

The larvae, or caterpillars, are yellowish-green with a red head and grow up to 2 inches long. Very thin black stripes runs across the back (dorsal). The caterpillar lives in a pile of leaves held together by silk.

Chrysalis

The chrysalis, like a number of butterflies, has the appearance of a bird dropping. It is a dark brown color black and white markings. The chrysalis hibernates through the winter.

Adult

The adults are the characteristic brown with the distinctive markings.

Range of the Silver-spotted Skipper in the United States and Canada

Range map of silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) in the United States and Canada.

This skipper located throughout North America except for the far northern reaches in the Arctic.

Habitat

Meadow habitat in Europe.
Meadow Habitat — Leonhard Lenz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This skipper likes to fly around open woods, fields, prairies, roadsides, and other weedy areas. However, it has a tendency to prefer somewhat shaded areas such as swamps and forests as well.

Host Plants

Leaves of false indigo bush (Amorpha fruticosa).
False Indigo Bush (Amorpha fruticosa) — AnRo0002, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The larvae, or caterpillars, of this skipper feed mainly on plants of the Legume Family (Fabaceae). These include locusts (Robinia spp. and Gleditsia spp.), false indigo bush (Amorpha fruticosa), bush-clover (Lespedeza spp.), wisteria (Wisteria spp.), tick-trefoils (Desmodium spp.).

Nectar Plants

Pinkish flowers of red clover (Trifolium pratense).
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) Flowers — Robert Coxe, Image

This skipper nectars on a lot of plants some of which include red clover (Trifolium pratense), milkweeds (Asclepias spp.), and buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). It is considered a nectar thief since it generally does not pollinate the flowers it visits due to the mouth part structure (Venables and Barrows 1985).

Frequently Asked Questions about the Silver-spotted Skipper

What other butterflies are similar to this one?

Other similar species to this skipper include the hoary edge (Achalarus lyciades), which has similar yellow and white markings, but they are not as prominent (Pyle 1981).

Are there any interesting facts?

This skipper is one of the largest in the skipper family.

References

  • Bouseman, John K. and James G. Sternburg. 2001. Field Guide to the Butterflies of Illinois. Champaign: Illinois Natural History Survey. Manual 10.
  • Dixon, Bruce W. 1955. A New Subspecies of Epargyreus clarus from Arizona with Distributional Notes (Lepidoptera: Hesperiidae). Entomological News 66: 6-9.
  • Venables, B. Andrienne and Edward M. Barrows. 1985. Skippers: Pollinators or Nectar Thieves? Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society 39(4): 299-312.
  • Zhang, Jing, et al. 2020. Genomic evidence suggests further changes of butterfly names. The Taxonomic Report of the International Lepidoptera Society 8(7): 1-41.
  • Pyle, Robert Michael. 1981. National Audubon Society Field Guide to Butterflies. New York: Chanticleer Press.

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Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe is a professional ecologist and botanist who has worked as the State Ecologist of Delaware and as an ecologist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He is also a former Past-President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. He currently is an innkeeper at McMullen House Bed & Breakfast LLC and a web designer and owner for Silphium Design LLC.

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