Friday, May 14, 2010


The digital camera is the most valuable tool I have for studying skippers. Before I had the ability to capture an image for future study, I captured the actual skipper. Trying to identify fluttering skippers by looking at them through the mesh of a butterfly net was not very effective. Placing them inside a clear plastic tube didn’t work much better. I always felt guilty about all of the wing scales that coated the inside of my tube. A digital photo is the harmless way to catch something like this Sleepy Duskywing.

Several of the skippers are very similar in appearance and differ only in the placement of spots on the wings. Once you’ve learned the patterns, you can become pretty good at making identifications in the field. A few photos will let you check on the accuracy of those ID’s. This is a Juvenal’s Duskywing.

I’m still not very comfortable identifying some of the skippers. They are mostly small, mostly brown and mostly fast. Some hold their wings out when at rest, some hold them together and others fan them out like a Bloomin’ Onion. All of these characteristics can be used to help categorize the skipper in question and reduce the number of possible options. True skippers differ from the butterflies by having the knobs at the end of the antennae taper out into a hooked point. This is the Wild Indigo Duskywing.

Skippers have the annoying habit of losing their wing scales as they age. This muddles the pattern and adds to the problem of identification. Rather than worry over it, I just figure that these old guys are the same species as the youngsters I was seeing earlier in the season.

It’s also difficult when the skipper doesn’t hold its wings as shown in the best identification book you have. As my skill increases, I’ll probably be able to come back to the old photos and put names on them with no trouble.


  1. Which books do you use for ID? My favorites were Butterflies and Skippers of Ohio by Iftner, Shuey, and Calhoun and Butterflies through Binoculars East (I actually have the previous edition for Boston, NY, & Washington).

  2. I have all three of those. My favorite is the original edition of Butterflies Through Binoculars, because the photos are larger and it has all but three of the species found in this area. I use BTB for identification and Butterflies and Skippers of Ohio for the species information.