Long-Tailed Skipper: Essential Facts for Butterfly Enthusiasts

The Long-tailed Skipper is a unique butterfly known for its eye-catching appearance and distinctive tails. Belonging to the Hesperiidae family of skippers, its wings are predominantly brown, featuring a brilliant band of glassy spots on the dorsal forewing and an iridescent blue-green sheen on its body and wing bases. This fascinating insect stands out even more thanks to the single, prominent tail extending from each of its hindwings.

Native to North and Central America, the Long-tailed Skipper can be found in various habitats, ranging from gardens to forest edges and open fields. With a wingspan of 1½ – 2 inches, this relatively large skipper is easily spotted and a joy to observe for butterfly enthusiasts. As adults, they are known to feed on nectar from a wide variety of flowers, making them essential pollinators in their ecosystems.

Long Tailed Skipper Overview

Identification Features

The Long-tailed Skipper (Urbanus proteus) is a distinctive species of butterfly with several unique features:

  • Wingspan: 1½ – 2 inches (3.8 – 4.1 cm) 1
  • Body color: Iridescent blue-green, especially at the wing bases 2
  • Wings: Brown color with visible patterns
  • Hindwing: Prominent, 0.5-inch-long tails at the end

This skipper butterfly has an easily recognizable appearance due to its eye-catching color combination and long-tailed hindwings.

Taxonomy

Long-tailed Skippers belong to the Lepidoptera order, which includes all butterflies and moths 3. Within Lepidoptera, Urbanus proteus is part of the Hesperiidae family, commonly known as Skippers. Here is a quick comparison between butterflies, moths, and skippers:

Feature Butterflies Moths Skippers
Antennae Ends Club-shaped Feathery or filamentous Hooked
Wing Shape More delicate Typically broader or narrower Sturdy and compact
Resting Pose Wings spread apart Wings folded or up Either spread or folded, depending on the species4

In summary, the Long-tailed Skipper is a unique and easily recognizable butterfly species due to its combination of distinctive features, including its iridescent blue-green body, brown wings, long tails on the hindwing, and 1½ – 2-inch wingspan. It belongs to the Hesperiidae family, which is part of the Lepidoptera order.

Habitat and Distribution

North and Central America

The Long-tailed Skipper (Urbanus proteus) is known to inhabit tropical and subtropical regions across North and Central America. In the United States, this butterfly can be found in the southeast, extending as far north as parts of the Midwest, depending on the season. They are also commonly seen in Mexico and throughout Central America.

  • Range: Southeast United States, Mexico, Central America
  • Habitat: Tropical and subtropical

South America

In South America, Long-tailed Skippers have a wide distribution covering most of the continent, including countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Peru. They primarily inhabit neotropical regions, with preferences for forest edges and open areas.

  • Range: Most of South America
  • Habitat: Neotropical regions, forest edges, open areas

The Caribbean

The Long-tailed Skipper can also be found in the Caribbean, including the West Indies, where it thrives in both tropical and subtropical regions. This butterfly’s distribution spans many of the islands in the Caribbean, showcasing its adaptability to various environments.

  • Range: West Indies, other Caribbean islands
  • Habitat: Tropical and subtropical regions

Comparison Table:

Region Range Habitat
North & Central America Southeast US, Mexico, Central America Tropical and subtropical
South America Most of South America Neotropical regions, forest edges, open areas
The Caribbean West Indies, other Caribbean islands Tropical and subtropical regions

Natural Behavior and Biology

Life Cycle

The life cycle of the Long-tailed Skipper (Urbanus proteus) involves four main stages:

  1. Eggs: Typically laid on the host plants like American wisteria and kudzu.
  2. Caterpillars: Larvae feed on these host plants and grow into caterpillars.
  3. Pupa: Caterpillars eventually form a chrysalis and enter the pupal stage.
  4. Adults: After development, adult butterflies emerge from the chrysalis.

Feeding and Pollination

Long-tailed Skippers exhibit unique feeding and pollinating behaviors. Adult butterflies primarily feed on nectar from flowers such as asters. Their feeding process contributes to the pollination of these plants.

Caterpillar Host Plants

Caterpillars of the Long-tailed Skipper are observed feeding on specific host plants, including:

  • American wisteria
  • Kudzu
  • Various bean plants

These host plants provide an essential food source for the developing caterpillars. As they consume these plants, Long-tailed Skipper larvae may also be considered pests in certain agricultural contexts.

Adult Pollinators

Adult Long-tailed Skippers serve as pollinators for various plants. Some examples include:

  • Asters
  • Other native flowering plants

As they feed on nectar, adult skippers inadvertently transfer pollen between flowers, contributing to plant reproduction and biodiversity.

Predators and Other Threats

Long-tailed Skippers face numerous predators and threats throughout their life cycle. Examples:

  • Birds
  • Small mammals
  • Parasitic wasps

These predators can target the skippers in various stages, from eggs to adults. Additionally, habitat loss and degradation can have negative impacts on Long-tailed Skipper populations.

Interaction with Human Environments

Gardens and Urban Settings

The Long-tailed Skipper (Urbanus proteus) is a butterfly species from the Hesperiidae family that can be found in Florida and other regions across the southern United States. Known for their brown wings and blue-green iridescence, these butterflies can often be seen in urban and suburban gardens, disturbed sites, and roadsides. They are particularly attracted to:

  • Small flowers
  • Open habitats
  • Legume plants like beans

In gardens, the Long-tailed Skipper can be a showy butterfly, providing a lovely addition to the landscape. However, its abundance in more urban environments can also make it a nuisance.

Pest Management and Prevention

The Long-tailed Skipper is commonly considered a pest, particularly in gardens and bean fields, where the larvae feed on the leaves and damage the plants. Some methods for managing and preventing Long-tailed Skipper infestations include:

  • Pesticides: Chemical insecticides can be effective but should be used with caution. Overuse can lead to resistance and negative impacts on other species, including pollinators and natural predators.
  • Natural predators: Encouraging the presence of natural predators, such as birds and other insects, helps to maintain balanced ecosystems and reduce the populations of pests like the Long-tailed Skipper.
  • Resistant plant varieties: Cultivating bean varieties that are less susceptible to attack from Long-tailed Skipper larvae can minimize damage in agricultural fields and gardens.

Their range extends from southern Texas to Illinois, but they are less common in northern regions due to colder temperatures. While the Long-tailed Skipper’s interaction with human environments can be both beneficial (aesthetically pleasing) and detrimental (pest behavior), efforts to balance their presence in these landscapes are essential for maintaining sustainable ecosystems.

Footnotes

  1. Long-tailed Skipper – Alabama Butterfly Atlas

  2. Long-tailed Skipper – Florida’s Wildflowers & Butterflies

  3. Butterflies and Skippers | MDC Teacher Portal

  4. Fiery Skipper – Entomology and Nematology Department

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 – Long-Tailed Skipper

 

moth?
We found this lovely moth in the barn. It poised just long enough for us to take a photo of it and then it flew away. I have looked in both butterflies and moths on your site and can not seem to find one that looks like it. Can you id it for us?
Yvonne Griffiths
North Central FL

Hi Yvonne,
You were not able to locate this Long-Tailed Skipper, Urbanus proteus, on our site because it is a new species for us. We are very happy you sent it in. Skippers are classified as butterflies, but they have enough differences to be considered a group of insect with characteristics of both butterflies and moths. The Long-Tailed Skipper is a southern insect and the larval food are plants in the legume group.

Letter 2 – Long-Tailed Skipper

 

Help – ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Hi,
Can you help identify this bug? It reminded me of the humming bird moth untill I got a closer look at it. I was happy to be able to get so many pictures. This is the first time that I have seen this one and would like to know more about it. Thanks for your help. PS I FORGOT TO MENTION IN THE FIRST E-MAIL THAT I LIVE IN THE UPPER NORTHWEST CORNER OF PENNA. NEAR ERIE, AND THIS THING IS UNUSUALL FOR MY AREA.
Debbie Smith

Hi Debbie,
This is a Long-Tailed Skipper, Urbanus proteus, a butterfly, not a moth. Though they are more common in the south, you are withing the range of the species.

Letter 3 – Long Tailed Skipper

 

Unknown Moth
Location: Jacksonville, FL
January 29, 2012 10:33 pm
Dear Bugman,
I found this lovely moth, in a screened patio. It has a lovely subtle green shade on the body and rear wings. I thought it would be easily identified by the ”tail”, but I’m proving myself wrong. :}
I love finding and photographing insects!!
Signature: Dan

Long Tailed Skipper

Hi Dan,
Though it looks somewhat moth-like, the Long Tailed Skipper
Urbanus proteus, is actually a butterfly.  Skippers are generally considered to be a transitional species between butterflies and moths, though they are classified as butterflies.

Long Tailed Skipper

Letter 4 – Long-Tailed Skipper

 

Subject: swallow tail moth?
Location: 3 miles W. of Wagram, NC (NC Sandhills)
September 12, 2012 10:58 am
I saw this fellow on my buddlea bush and am at loss to identify him. He has an iridescent blue back and a fairly pronounced swallow tail.
Signature: Bill Ingle

Long-Tailed Skipper

Hi Bill,
This Long-Tailed Skipper,
Urbanus proteus, is actually a butterfly and not a moth, though Skippers are generally classified as a transitional group of butterflies that shares many characteristics with moth.  According to BugGuide the range of the Long-Tailed Skipper is “‘Argentina north through Central America, the West Indies, and Mexico to peninsular Florida and South Texas. Occasionally strays and colonizes north to Connecticut, southern Illinois, eastern Kansas, southern Arizona, and southern California.’ (Butterflies and Moths of North America).”

Bless your heart!  Thank you so much!
They haven’t been seen in this area before, but we’ll be watching for them.

Letter 5 – Long-Tailed Skipper

 

Subject:  Butterfly or moth?
Geographic location of the bug:  Hazlet Twp NJ
Your letter to the bugman:  Please help me to identify this visitor, I like to know who is in my garden. This one is new to me!
How you want your letter signed:  Nancy K in NJ

Long-Tailed Skipper

Dear Nancy K,
This is a Long-Tailed Skipper,
Urbanus proteus, in the family Hesperidae, and though it is considered a butterfly, many sources consider Skippers to be a transitional family between Moths and Butterflies since they share physical characteristics of both.  According to BugGuide:  “Caterpillars feed on members of the Fabaceae (Pea or Bean family)” and the caterpillar is called the “Bean Leafroller.”  Your images are gorgeous and your zinnia bed is quite impressive.  We are pretty certain you already know that zinnias are one of the best flowers for attracting butterflies.

Long-Tailed Skipper

Letter 6 – Long Tailed Skipper Caterpillar

 

Florida Caterpiller
Location:  DeLand, Forida
July 24, 2010 11:30 am
Hi,
Can you tell what kind of caterpiller this is? It was found in DeLand, Florida on a Pole Bean plant in my garden on July 24, 2010.
Thank you for your help.
Sincerely, Maria

Long Tailed Skipper Caterpillar

Hi Maria,
This is a Skipper Caterpillar in the family Hesperiidae.  Skippers are butterflies, but they are often described as being a transitional family between butterflies and moths.  Many Skipper Caterpillars look similar, as you can see on BugGuide.  We believe it may be a Long-Tailed Skipper,
Urbanus proteus, and we found a nice website called Mike’s Page that details how to raise a Long-Tailed Skipper Caterpillar by feeding it leaves from beans.

Update
Long-tailed Skipper caterpillar sex – male or female
July 24, 2010 1:37 pm
The two orange dots just a little over half way down the back of the Long-tailed Skipper caterpillar indicate that its a male.  With a few species you can tell if the larger caterpillars are male or female by these dots.  Brazilian Skipper’s dots are white.
I recently became a fan of whatsthatbug on facebook and am thoroughly enjoying your posts.
Thanks bunches,
Edith Smith

Hi Edith,
Thanks for this wonderful tip.  It is a new one for us as we didn’t think there was an easy way, other than genetic testing, to determine a male from a female caterpillar of any species.  We also appreciate your compliments.

Letter 7 – Long-Tailed Skipper from Peru

 

Subject: Butterfly/Moth? from Peru
Location: Central Peru
January 4, 2014 7:54 pm
Dear Bugman,
I took this picture in the cloudforest of central Peru, and I have no idea if this is a kind of butterfly or moth or something else. Can you help me? Thank you once again!
Signature: Frank

Long Tailed Skipper
Long-Tailed Skipper

Hi Frank,
This sure looks like the North American Long-Tailed Skipper,
Urbanus proteus, but without doing any research, we cannot be certain if the range extends to Peru or if this is a related South American species.  According to BugGuide, the range is:  “‘Argentina north through Central America, the West Indies, and Mexico to peninsular Florida and South Texas. Occasionally strays and colonizes north to Connecticut, southern Illinois, eastern Kansas, southern Arizona, and southern California.’ (Butterflies and Moths of North America).”  Taxonomically, Skippers are classified as butterflies, and they are thought of as an evolutionary transition between moths and butterflies.

Letter 8 – Longtailed Skipper

 

big black moth?
Hi Bugman,
I am wondering if you can identify a bug for me? It is in a photo that a friend sent me from their trip to somewhere near Puerta Vallerta, Mexico. It looks like a large black luna moth (in shape). It has white markings on it’s forwings, and long trailing hindwings. I am attatching a photo, but it isn’t the graeatest. I’ve searched on line for the name of this insect, which I am assuming is a moth, and I can’t come up with anything. I’d be ecstatic if you could identify it for me!!
Thank you,
Lonna Stauffer

Hi Lonna,
This isn’t a moth, but a Longtailed Skipper, a butterfly in the family Hesperiidae that is sometimes referred to as an evolutionary group between butterflies and moths since they possess characteristics of both moths and butterflies. They are not large, despite the appearance in the photo. Longtail Skippers generally have a wingspan under two inches.

Letter 9 – Longtailed Skipper

 

swallowtail moth
Can you identify this for me? Thank you.
GG North Florida

Hi GG,
This is actually a butterfly known as a Longtailed Skipper.

Letter 10 – Longtailed Skipper

 

Spectacular tail
This hawk moth has a really spectacular, long tail. From head to the tip of the tail it’s probably 2 inches long. The spots on the wing are clear. This was photographed in my flower garden in Friendsood, Texas.
Bruce Wright

Hi Bruce,
This is not a Hawkmoth. It is a Longtailed Skipper, a butterfly. Thanks for sending in your great photo.

Authors

    by
  • 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.

  • 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.

5 thoughts on “Long-Tailed Skipper: Essential Facts for Butterfly Enthusiasts”

  1. I have a bout 15 little long tail Skipper caterpillars on my sweet pea plant right now – I just noticed them yesterday, they were just eggs… And today I looked and they have made little ‘tents’ all on the elves to hide during the day time hours, and they come out at night to feed. It is really neat!!!!

    Reply

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