Duskywing Skipper: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

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Duskywing Skippers belong to the family Hesperiidae, a group distinguished by their rapid, erratic “skipping” flight pattern. Although they are not considered “true” butterflies, they are more closely related to true butterflies than moths1. These fascinating creatures exhibit unique features that make them stand out among the diverse world of butterflies and skippers.

There are several species of Duskywing Skippers, such as the Columbine Duskywing (Erynnis lucilius)1 and the Mottled Duskywing (Erynnis martialis)2. Each species showcases different wing patterns and colors, ranging from heavily patterned uppersides to iridescent lavender sheens. These distinct characteristics make Duskywing Skippers more intriguing to observe and study.

In this article, you’ll discover everything you need to know about Duskywing Skippers, including their appearance, habitat, behavior, and conservation. Whether you’re a butterfly enthusiast or simply curious about these unique insects, prepare to be amazed by the wonderful world of Duskywing Skippers.

Duskywing Skipper Identification

Characteristics

Duskywing Skipper is a group of butterflies belonging to the Hesperiidae family. They are characterized by their brown color and distinctive white spots on their forewings. The primary species of interest are Erynnis persius and Erynnis horatius, also known as Persius Duskywing and Horace’s Duskywing, respectively.

  • Chocolate brown wings
  • Distinctive white spots on forewings
  • Medium-sized
  • Belong to the Hesperiidae family

Male vs Female

Though males and females look similar, there are subtle differences to help distinguish them:

Males:

  • Dark black to brown upperside with white spots
  • Smaller white spots on forewing edges

Females:

  • Lighter brown color
  • Larger white spots, especially on forewing edges

Flight Behavior

Duskywing Skippers are known for their quick, erratic flight patterns. They tend to perch with their wings spread, and are often found near their host plants. They exhibit a territorial behavior, often returning to a favorite perch after brief flights.

  • Quick, erratic flight patterns
  • Perch with wings spread
  • Territorial behaviors

Wingspan

Duskywing Skippers have varying wingspans depending on the species. Here’s a comparison of the wingspans for Persius and Horace’s Duskywings:

Species Wingspan
Persius Duskywing 1 – 1¼ inches (2.5 – 3.8 cm)
Horace’s Duskywing 1½ – 1¾ inches (3.3 – 4.4 cm)

Overall, Duskywing Skipper identification relies on recognizing the specific characteristics, distinguishing male from female, observing flight behaviors, and comparing wingspan sizes. By understanding these traits, one can quickly identify a Duskywing Skipper in their natural habitat.

Duskywing Skipper Habitat and Distribution

Range in the United States and Canada

Duskywing Skippers are found throughout the United States and parts of Canada. Their range includes various states such as:

  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Alabama
  • South Florida

In Canada, they are found mainly along the Mississippi River.

Habitat Preferences

Duskywing Skippers are typically found in:

  • Open woodlands
  • Oak woodlands
  • Clearings
  • Open fields
  • Edges of forests

These butterflies thrive in environments that provide ample sunlight and diverse plant life for their caterpillars’ food source. Duskywing Skippers are sensitive to habitat destruction, which usually happens due to urban development and industrialization.

Biology and Life Cycle

Larval Host Plants

The Columbine Duskywing Skipper (Erynnis lucilius) belongs to the skipper family, Hesperiidae1. As larvae, these butterflies rely on specific host plants for nourishment and growth. Some primary host plants include:

  • Wide-leaf sedge3
  • Buttonbush3
  • Swamp milkweed3
  • Joe pye weed3

These plants are predominantly found in forested swamps and brushy wetlands with sedges3.

Broods and Seasonality

The Duskywing Skipper has a unique life cycle with specific broods and seasonal patterns that affect their abundance1.

  • Time of year: They are typically more abundant around June1.
  • Broods: Studies suggest that there may be multiple broods throughout the calendar year1. More research is needed to better understand their brood patterns.

These insects play a vital role in their ecosystems as pollinators, and their conservation is essential for maintaining the balance of Lepidoptera, butterflies, and other organisms in their habitats.

Comparison table of Duskywing Skippers and Spread-wing Skippers:

Feature Duskywing Skippers Spread-wing Skippers
Wingspan Small wingspan Moderate wingspan
Appearance Dark brown colors Light to dark brown colors
Wing characteristics Translucent, hyaline1 Opaque
Flight pattern Rapid, erratic, “skipping” flight pattern1 Soaring or gliding flight
Host plant preference Wide-leaf sedge, buttonbush, swamp milkweed, joe pye weed3 Other plant species

Pros:

  • Important pollinators
  • Unique biology and life cycle
  • Indicator of ecosystem health due to host plant preferences

Cons:

  • Limited habitat due to specific host plants
  • Vulnerable to habitat loss and degradation

Tips for Observation and Photography

Duskywing skippers are a fascinating group of butterflies in the genus Erynnis. They exhibit rapid, erratic flight patterns, distinguishing them from true butterflies and moths. The following are some brief tips to aid in observing and photographing these captivating creatures:

  • Timing: Duskywings are commonly found from May onwards. Plan your observation and photography sessions during these months to maximize sightings.

  • Identifying the Species: There are several duskywing species, such as the Columbine Duskywing and Dreamy Duskywing. A clickable guide can help you differentiate between species, enhancing your knowledge of these amazing insects.

In order to effectively photograph and observe duskywing skippers, keep the following in mind:

  • Patience: Skippers are known for their agile flight, which can make photographing them challenging. Be patient and wait for the right moment to take your shot.

  • Equipment: A good macro lens will help capture detailed photos of these small butterflies, highlighting their unique features.

Features to look for when photographing individual duskywings include:

  • Dark brown to black wing coloration
  • Glassy, transparent spots on forewings (in some species)

Duskywings, like other butterflies, also exhibit diverse natural world characteristics, such as:

  • Pollinator interactions with plants
  • Unique larval and pupal stages

When comparing duskywing skippers with other North American butterflies and moths, consider the following traits:

Duskywing Skippers Other Butterflies/Moths
Erratic flight pattern Smooth flight pattern
Generally dark in color Wide range of colors
Small glassy spots (some species) Varied patterns and markings

By following these tips and maintaining a respectful approach to the natural world, both amateur and experienced observers can enjoy the beauty of duskywing skippers and capture stunning photographs of these incredible insects.

Conservation and Management

The Duskywing Skipper butterfly, a member of the Hesperiidae family, is known for its rapid and erratic flight pattern1. Conservation and management of this species involves taking steps to protect and enhance their habitat while monitoring populations.

  • Roadsides can serve as potential habitats for Duskywing Skippers.
  • Naturalists, such as Scott and Ann Swengel, work to study and conserve these butterflies.
  • Expert professional advice can help in managing and protecting this species.
  • Your local extension office may offer important resources and guidance.

Images of the Duskywing Skipper and its habitat help naturalists and researchers identify suitable locations for their long-term survival3. For instance, the Dakota Skipper (Hesperia dacotae) is a small butterfly closely related to the Duskywing Skipper that thrives in mixed and tallgrass prairie2. Loss of suitable habitat has led to its listing as a threatened species2.

Obtaining expert professional advice is essential to ensure proper management and conservation efforts. Your local extension office, for example, may provide useful information and resources to help in this endeavor4.

Here is a comparison table highlighting the differences and similarities between the Duskywing Skipper and the Dakota Skipper:

Feature Duskywing Skipper Dakota Skipper
Flight Pattern Rapid and erratic1 Similar to the Duskywing2
Habitat Roadsides and other areas3 Mixed and tallgrass prairie2
Conservation Status Under study3 Threatened2
Research Scott and Ann Swengel3 University of North Dakota4

Footnotes

  1. https://www.fs.usda.gov/wildflowers/pollinators/pollinator-of-the-month/columbine-duskywing.shtml 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

  2. https://alabama.butterflyatlas.usf.edu/species/details/59/mottled-duskywing 2 3 4 5 6

  3. Euphyes dukesi (Dukes’ skipper) – Michigan Natural Features Inventory 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

  4. Dakota Skipper – North Dakota Game and Fish 2

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Duskywing Skipper

 

Subject: Butterfly
Location: Morgantown, WV
April 30, 2013 6:17 pm
Hello Bugman!
I found this pretty thing in the road, probably stunned by a car strike. So I picked it up and set it in the sunshine after a taking a couple of pictures. I’ve seen this kind of butterfly before but haven’t been able to successfully identify it. I am thinking it might be a kind of skipper, but I’m only guessing. I would love to know what this is. They are pretty early here in WV, though I have seen quite a few cabbage whites and tiger swallowtails this week. Thank you again for your fantastic website!
Signature: Bugwatcher Guitry

Duskywing, we believe
Duskywing, we believe

Dear Bugwatcher Guitry,
You are correct that this is a Skipper.  It looks to us like one of the Duskywings in the genus
Erynnis, however, it doesn’t seem to perfectly match any of the species pictured on BugGuide.  BugGuide does note:  “The genus Erynnis (Duskywings) is probably the most difficult group of North American butterflies to identify in the field. However, the identity of a particular individual can often be narrowed to a few possibilities by noting the habitat and examining the range maps for each species (see INTERNET REFERENCES section below). A further critical comparison of an individual’s key field marks to those in reliably identified images is often enough to arrive at a certain or near-certain ID; examination of the genitalia may be required in some cases but is usually not necessary when the preceding steps have been taken with due care.”  The closest match, in our opinion, is Horace’s Duskywing (see photo on BugGuide), which is a wide ranging species reported in West Virginia.  According to BugGuide its habitat is:  “Open woodlands and edges, clearings, fencerows, wooded swamps, power-line right-of-ways, open fields, roadsides.”

Letter 2 – Duskywing Skipper

 

Subject: Persius or Wild Indigo Duskywing
Location: Occoquan NWR, VA
April 6, 2017 9:24 am
I photographed this Butterfly yesterday, and think it is either a Persius Duskywing or Wild Indigo Duskywing, (neither of which seem to be on your website). I would be most grateful for your opinion. Thanks!
Signature: Seth

Duskywing

Dear Seth,
Thanks so much for submitting your image of a Duskywing Skipper in the genus
Erynnis.  Currently we have two species from the genus on our site, both from California.  We do not feel confident taking an identification to the species level with any surety.   Perhaps one of our readers will be able to provide a more definitive response.

Letter 3 – Funereal Duskywing

 

Erynnis funeralis?
Location: Hawthorne, CA
October 17, 2011 3:35 pm
Hi Daniel,
It was good to finally meet you this past Saturday at the Lummis House. We enjoyed your talk very much and are thankful that you give of your time in so many ways. We wish our Iowa cousins had not left early that same morning, as we are sure they would have enjoyed seeing the Lummis House. They are also bug enthusiasts.
While watching your presentation, we noticed many butterflies flitting about behind you and I had to control myself! My usual response is to immediately get up and head in the general direction of any bug. We also spotted what husband Marty thinks is a Cooper’s Hawk. Are they local to that area?
Saturday morning I spotted what I think is a Funereal Duskywing feeding on the Mexican Sunflowers in my yard. Am I correct?
Signature: Thanks, Anna Carreon

Funereal Duskywing

Hi Anna,
It was very nice meeting you and Marty on Saturday.  We really enjoy getting to meet our internet friends at public events.  Another contributor, Barbara from South Pasadena also introduced herself.  Marty was correct.  We do have Cooper’s Hawks in the neighborhood.  At our Mt Washington offices, when the mourning doves are searching for seeds in the yard, Cooper’s Hawks frequently view the flocks as smorgasbords.  We agree that this is a Funereal Duskywing, though we would not totally rule out the related Mournful Duskywing,
Erynnis tristis, that is also found in this area.  The Butterflies and Moths of North America has a nice description of the Funereal Duskywing.

Funereal Duskywing

Hi Daniel,
Thanks for the response.  I did check out the Mournful Duskywing but still think that my photo is of a Funereal Duskywing.  It was very dark in coloring.  I could be wrong, though (wouldn’t be the first time).  Just happy to find yet another “new to us” bug in our small back yard.  Thanks also for answering Marty’s question about the Cooper’s Hawk.  We have Red Tailed Hawks here in Hawthorne.  Yes, hawks in Hawthorne.  They also look at the mourning doves as smorgasbords.  What a great description!
Anna

 

Letter 4 – Funereal Duskywing

 

Subject: butterfly ID
Location: San Diego County
April 27, 2017 9:00 am
Hi Daniel,
I thought these 2 would be a cakewalk when I shot them. So distinctive. But alas, my insect knowledge is zero. Both photoed in San Diego county CA.
I can’t seem to fit geographic to species. To my untrained eye below looks like a Coyote Cloudywing – but apparently not in Southwestern CA.
(about half the size of a Monarch)
Signature: Gerald Friesen

Funereal Duskywing

Hi Gerald,
Thanks for resending your requests using our standard submission form.  It really does make posting submissions to our site much easier.  We believe this large Skipper is a Funereal Duskywing,
Erynnis funeralis, and according to Jeffrey Glassberg’s book Butterflies Through Binoculars The West, the habitat is “A wide variety, including desert, woodland edges, and spruce forest, but preference is for hot, dry situations.”  Here is an image from BugGuide.  We would not entirely rule out another member of the genus, however, Glassberg also writes “the F[ore]W[ing] is largely black with a pale brown patch beyond the cell.  The FW white spots are weakly expressed.”  The accompanying image in the book closely resembles your individual.

Letter 5 – Funereal Duskywing

 

Subject:  What butterfly or moth is this?
Geographic location of the bug:  Los Angeles, CA
Date: 08/20/2019
Time: 11:31 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I found this little one while gardening. I was curious about the species. I’ve seen many swallowtails lately but not this one. I couldn’t find anything in a google search.
How you want your letter signed:  Vic

Funereal Duskywing

Dear Vic,
This is one of the Duskywing Skippers in the genus
Erynnis, probably the Funereal Duskywing which is pictured on BugGuide.  Daniel has been seeing Funereal Duskyings in his Mount Washington garden on composite flowers including sunflower for weeks.

Letter 6 – Mournful Duskywing

 

Subject: Butterfly ID
Location: Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve , California (34.1725, -118.4692 )
July 29, 2013 9:02 pm
I photographed this one at Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve (Van Nuys, California) on March 5, 2013. I’d like to know what it is. Thanks!
Signature: Talila

Mournful Duskywing
Mournful Duskywing

Dear Talila,
We were away from the office between July 30 and August 16 and we did not respond to any identification requests during that time.  We are now trying to respond to a small fraction of the identification requests we received in that time and posting the most interesting submissions.  We quickly recognized your butterfly as a Duskywing Skipper, but we were not certain of the species.  Imagine our surprise when we found your request answered as a male Mournful Duskywing,
Erynnis tristis, on BugGuide.  Unlike BugGuide, since our editorial staff does all the actual posting on our site, we like larger images that we can crop ourselves.  Insects are not isolated from their environments.  Insects are part of the complex web of life that exists in the myriad distinct ecosystems that comprise the microhabitats that can exist in a single acre. This includes plants and other creatures that form food chains and symbiotic relationships.

Many thanks for your answer!
BTW, it wasn’t me who asked about this butterfly at BugGuide. My friend, Yael Orgad, who was hiking with my on that day had asked about it there and had I remembered she did I would have simply asked her …
I’ll be happy to send you the original, uncropped image if you are interested in posting this.
So which one is it, the skipper or the mournful Duskywings?
Talila

Hi Talila,
The Mournful Duskywing, your butterfly, is one of the Skippers, a family of Butterflies.

Letter 7 – Skipper Caterpillar: Juvenal's Duskywing

 

Caterpillar ID pretty please
November 9, 2009
To my novice eyes this appears to be an early instar, but I’ve had no luck identifying which caterpillar it will grow up to be. I tried looking through your archives but didn’t see it. I don’t want to waste your time. Could you please help? It was chowing down on a Bur Oak in Austin, TX on Nov. 9, 2009. It is approximately 1 inch long. Thanks for your help! I really love your site and have referred to it often.
WTB Fan
Austin, TX

Juvenal's Duskywing Caterpillar
Juvenal's Duskywing Caterpillar

Dear WTB Fan,
We immediately recognized your unusual caterpillar as a Skipper in the family Hesperiidae, but we were amazed that in about fifteen seconds we identified it as a Juvenal’s Duskywing, Erynnis juvenalis.  According to BugGuide, this wide ranging species has caterpillars that feed on the leaves of oaks.

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Duskywing Skipper

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