Dingy Skipper

Dingy Skipper Erynnis tages (Linnaeus 1758)

Family: Hesperidae (The Skippers)

Description

Photo above left by Caroline Walker (same photo used as header)

Photo above right by Lauren Teate

The Dingy Skipper is a small, inconspicuous, fast-flying, moth-like butterfly which can easily be missed. The males and females look similar. It is often confused with day-flying moths such as Mother Shipton Callistege mi and Burnet Companion Euclidia glyphica which may share the same habitat, so care should be taken to check if the antennae are clubbed (butterfly) or not (moth).

This butterfly is fawny brown with variable pale markings, though the markings become less distinct as the butterfly ages and loses scales. It may appear to have a lustre when it is fresh. Second brood specimens are paler with a more chequered pattern and pale yellowish undersides.

It is usually on the wing from early May to late June but is generally only seen in very small numbers.

Habitat

The adult butterflies prefer to lay eggs on Bird's-foot Trefoil Lotus corniculatus, although it will also use Greater Bird's-foot Trefoil L uliginosus and Horseshoe Vetch Hippocrepis comosa. Bird's-foot Trefoil is a colonising plant which thrives best on disturbed soils and is often therefore found on brownfield sites such as quarries (chalk, limestone, sand and gravel), coalmines with spoil heaps and rail routes and sidings (used and disused). It can also be found on chalk and limestone grass lands, coastal dunes and woodland edges.

In Yorkshire, sites appear to be largely limited to chalk and limestone areas associated with the Magnesian Limestone ridge, the Yorkshire Wolds and the North York Moors. Sites away from these areas often have a rail connection where chalk or limestone foundations may have been used for sidings.

Distribution

Overall the species is quite localised and has declined in Yorkshire, though not so much in Northumberland. It is more widespread in southern England but is also found in Cumbria and the south of Northumberland.

The butterfly appears to be fairly sedentary and probably needs a mosaic of linked habitats in which to thrive. It suffers from the fact that Bird’s-foot Trefoil is mainly found in temporary situations and is therefore quick to disappear as sites get scrubbed over or shaded out. Industrial habitats and waste areas of farms are subject to development or re-use, quarries get filled in and disused railway sidings get overgrown. Even where the foodplant is deliberately planted it is rapidly pushed out by other plants. Another problem is that warm springs may lead to the foodplant drying up.

An excellent example of positive management can be seen at Wharram Quarry YWT NR (VC61) where in past years large areas of the quarry floor were scraped back to bare rock to rejuvenate plant succession. As a result the growth of Bird's-foot Trefoil really took off, and so did the Dingy Skipper population.

Worldwide it is seen from the Mediterranean coast through Europe to Norway and eastward across Central Asia to China. Declines have been noted in some European countries.

Life Cycle

The female lays pale yellow eggs (changing to orange) singly on the upperside of a leaf or in the angle of a leaf stalk and these hatch after about two weeks.

The larvae are green with fine yellow bands, a lateral yellow stripe and distinctive dark head. Each larva draws leaves together with silk to make a tent in which the larva feeds. Successive tents are made as needed until the larva is fully grown around mid-August. The larva then spins a hibernaculum and sleeps inside it until the following spring when it pupates inside the tent for four to five weeks.

The adults usually emerge around the first week of May in the southern areas of Yorkshire and a bit later further north. If the adults emerge early in April there can be a partial second brood in the south of England (in late July or August). This happened in 2003 in Yorkshire.

Status

  • Section 41 species of principal importance under the NERC Act in England

  • Listed on Section 7 of the Environment (Wales) Act 2016

  • 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

Aberrations

Major variations rare with only 21 described aberrations described. Theses are mainly concerned with ground colour or the transverse bands on the upperside of the forewings. Where these are pronounced on a drab brown specimen it is known as ab transversa Tutt.

With thanks to The Butterflies of Yorkshire edited by Howard M Frost

Catherine Jones 05/04/21