Large Skipper

Large Skipper Ochlodes sylvanus (Turati 1905)

Family: Hesperidae (the Skippers)

Description

Photo below by Peter Waterton

Photo below by RD Burton (also header photo)

Small, compact, heavy-bodied, rich to dark brown butterfly. Both upper and undersides of wings show blotches or panes, usually orange brown on uppersides and dull yellow on undersides, but variable in brightness and becoming paler with wear. Undersides often suffused with olive green, more evident when fresh. Often rests in characteristic ‘skipper fashion’ with forewings held upwards in a V-shape and hindwings horizontal. Long antennae distinctly clubbed at the tips. Males have a prominent black sex brand across the middle of each upper forewing, much larger and more clearly defined than that of Small Skipper. Adults only fly in sun conditions with a swift, darting flight. They frequently establish individual perching places and usually return to the same perch between flights.

Can be confused with Small Skipper and Essex Skipper. Size no guide as sizes overlap

Habitat

The Large Skipper lives in distinct colonies where unmanaged wild grasses grow. Cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata) is favoured whilst False Broom (Brachypodium sylvaticum) is also used where tall clumps growing on sunny, sheltered sites are used for breeding. Colonies are frequently found on unimproved grassland, along road verges and hedgerows as well as on the edges of woodland rides and rough scrubby sites.

Distribution

The Large Skipper is one of the commonest species in lowland areas and has one brood which emerges in May/June, peaks in late June and July with only a handful being observed in August; a flight season of about eighty days. Their numbers have remained fairly constant since 2013 although 2019 saw a decline. VC63 and VC64 record the most sightings whereas VC65 only record relatively small numbers. VC63 actually recorded 55% of the total sightings in Yorkshire in 2017.

The majority of recordings are of single figures whilst peak counts are normally in double figures. A three figure count, a rarity, has been recorded two years running at Wentside Hill, whilst regular record peak counts have been recorded at Catterick Garrison and Coniston Cold.

Life Cycle

Large Skippers prefer tall clumps of Cock’s-foot grasses for egg laying, feeding and hibernation. The egg, which is laid singly, is pearl white, domed shaped and quite large. The caterpillar feeds on the grass and hibernates, half-grown, cocooned in several leaf blades and resumes feeding in spring.

The caterpillar is blue-green when fully grown with a dark line down the centre and a cream coloured line along each side.


Status

The species is not under threat.

Aberrations


PR Brook November 2020