I remember the first time I saw a silver-spotted skipper. I was in a meadow in the Rouge Valley and was blown away by how metallic the silver patch was on the butterfly’s wings. It was like the patch had been drawn on by a silver marker. It was easy to identify the species because, like many insects, its name is helpfully obvious: silver-spotted because of the patch on its hindwing, and skipper because it’s a member of the skipper butterfly family (Hesperiidae).
They’re called skipper butterflies because of their fast and darting way of flying. Their skipping flight, small size and the fact that many of them are mostly brown with spots, means that skippers can be frustrating to identify.
Silver-spotted skippers stand out. It’s relatively large, with a wingspan of around 1.5 inches. The wings are mostly chocolate brown, with a golden-orange band across the forewing in addition to the silver spot on its hindwing.
You often see adult silver-spotted skippers drinking nectar from flowers. They love pink, purple, blue and red flowers but generally avoid yellow blossoms. At night, butterflies hang upside down from leaves. Their caterpillars eat plants in the legume family (Fabaceae), which includes trees like black locust, as well as non-woody plants like showy tick trefoil and false indigo.
Look for silver-spotted skipper butterflies in open sunny areas, such as meadows, gardens, parks and forest edges, with flowers that are host plants for their caterpillars. You’re less likely to encounter a silver-spotted skipper caterpillar, unless you go searching. Like all skippers, silver-spotted skipper caterpillars use silk to tie leaves together and then hide inside. If you do go looking, be careful–the caterpillars are keen on keeping their leaf shelters neat and will ballistically eject their frass (i.e. caterpillar poo) up to 38 times their body length away!
While silver-spotted skippers are easily identified and not particularly rare, we have few recorded observations of the species in the Credit River Watershed. This is most likely a reflection of the fact that there has been little effort to survey butterflies, not that the species itself is uncommon in our area.
This lack of data is one of the reasons why we’re running our first ever Credit River Watershed Butterfly Blitz. You can help build our knowledge of butterflies in the area while learning more about this fascinating group. For information on our citizen science program and how to participate, visit cvc.ca/ButterflyBlitz.
By: Laura Timms, Natural Heritage Management Ecologist