The Essex Skipper, like the Small Skipper, is a small orange-brown butterfly, with a fat and short moth-like body. Freshly emerged specimens look very golden in sunlight, but look very drab when worn.
Male and females are alike except that males have a sex brand, which is a thin, black, slightly curving line on upper forewings. Both males and females often rest in a characteristic 'skipper' fashion, with forewings held upwards in a V-shape, and hindwings horizontal. Their flight is fast and darting and the butterflies can be hard to see when nectaring or resting on flowers because of their brown-ish colour.
The Essex Skipper is of often confused with the Small Skipper and it takes some practice to tell them apart. Previously the Essex Skipper was extremely rare in Yorkshire so this was not an issue but it is now becoming more common and appears to be gradually moving north. Therefore it can no longer be assumed that all small golden skippers are Small Skippers.
The key identifying feature of an Essex Skipper are sharply defined, glossy black tips to the underside of each antenna. lt looks like the antennae tips have been dipped into black ink, leaving a stain on the undersides, but not the uppersides. The antennae are often bright orange-brown above and paler underneath, with the black tip forming a sharp contrast. They can also be darker with an orange-brown patch adjoining the black tips. Small Skipper underside antennae tips are rather variable, from orange brown to dark brown and can look as though they also have black tips, but with less sharply defined edges and the darkness extending above and below the tips.
Male Essex Skippers can also be identified by their shorter, straighter sex brands, which are parallel to the forewing edge (compared to the Small Skipper's longer brand being at an angle). Both male and female Essex Skippers also tend to have slightly thicker black edges to their wings than Small Skippers, but this can be variable.