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Butterfly Conservation- Glasgow & South West Scotland Branch


Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages) - PRIORITY SPECIES

Description

The Dingy skipper is a small (wingspan 27-34 mm) well camouflaged butterfly with grey and brown wavy-patterned wings. Both sexes are similar, although females tend to have a darker background colour. The adults are short lived and quickly begin to look Ďa bit tattyí. During sunny weather it can often found basking on bare patches of ground with wings wide open, while in the evening it may be found perching on the tops of dead flower heads with its wings curved back in a very distinctive posture. The dingy skipper is a fast flyer, and the male will interrupt sunbathing to chase any potential mates or intruding males with a rapid buzzing flight. It has undergone a dramatic and worrying decline in Britain in recent decades.

Credit: Jim Black
Credit: Jim Black
Credit: Jim Black

Life Cycle

After emerging during May/June males set about defending temporary territories within their colony and await passing females. Adults tend to be very sedentary and rarely move very far from existing colonies. Females search for plants of Birdís-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) growing in warm sheltered nooks or spreading over bare soil/stones on which to lay their round greenish-white eggs. The eggs are generally laid singly on the upper surface of young leaves, but occasionally two or more eggs may be found on the same plant. After approximately 5 days the eggs turn orange and hatch after about 2 weeks (9-12 days) depending on the weather. The newly hatched caterpillar is green with a dark green line down its back and a dark head and hides within a silk tent made by spinning leaves of the food plant together. The larvae are slow growing and normally only one brood is produced each year (very occasionally a partial second brood is reported during hot summers). They feed until fully grown in August/September, when they spin more leaves together to form a hibernaculum in which to spend the winter months. Pupation occurs the following April in the hibernaculum without further feeding. Eggs and larvae are very occasionally found on greater birdís-foot trefoil (Lotus pendunculatus) and horseshoe vetch (Hippocrepis comosa).

Flight Times

In South West Scotland adults can be found on the wing during May and June in one protracted brood, with numbers peaking at the start of June. Following warm spring weather individuals may emerge at the end of April. During exceptionally warm summers a partial second brood may be seen on the wing during August/September in England.

Habitat & Distribution in SW Scotland

Distribution map 2010

The Dingy Skipper is currently the rarest of the butterflies found in South West Scotland, and is classed as a national BAP priority species. It can be found at coastal sites such as dunes or undercliffs, often near bare ground or near a path with plenty of birdís-foot trefoil growing over stones or bare sand. The Dingy skipper may also be found along old railway embankments, at brownfield sites such as old mine workings, quarries or the grounds of abandoned factories where the food plant can grow in cracks in concrete/tarmac.

Ideal conditions occur where the foodplant is growing in warm sheltered sites with sparse sward/grass covering and bare patches for basking. Patches of taller vegetation or scrub may be used by the adults as roosting sites. Adults tend to occur in discrete colonies and are unlikely to move to new suitable habitat unless it is close by. The species is easily overlooked as it is small, well camouflaged and unobtrusive, but has definitely suffered a serious decline in recent years. The reasons for this decline are not entirely clear as the food plant is widespread. Changes in land use, such as agricultural intensification, the cessation of coppicing in woodlands, habitat succession, and the recent government policy of developing brownfield sites appear to be major factors in the loss of this species.

In south west Scotland the dingy skipper is found at a few sites along the south coast of Dumfries and Galloway; in small numbers on the South Ayrshire coast and also at a few inland sites such as the Butterfly conservation reserve at Mabie forest. It is hoped that further local colonies can be found and protected before it is too late. Other Scottish colonies exist along the coasts of Moray, Nairn and Banffshire. These two separate distributions in Scotland were known in the 19th century but at that time, the Dingy Skipper was a little more common in SW Scotland with colonies in Glasgow & Hamilton.

Management

The species can benefit greatly from habitat management regimes at protected sites. Grazing with cattle during autumn and winter is better than grazing with sheep as it produced a more uneven sward height and also tends to create bare patches in the turf. Scarification to create bare patches can be very successful in creating suitable habitat on nutrient-poor soils. On nutrient-rich soils that encourage the vigorous growth of grass it is recommended that the topsoil is stripped off to encourage colonisation by the food plant and also create bare patches for basking. Periodic scrub removal may be necessary at some sites, although light, well spaced scrub growth can provide shelter and good roosting sites. If a new site is to be created/enhanced it is recommended that the top soil is removed and inert, nutrient poor material such as crushed rocks or concrete can be added to provide bare rocky patches. The area can be left to naturally colonise or can be sown with suitable food plants and other wildflowers, ideally of local provenance, but it is important to leave areas bare. Newly sown sites may take a number of years before they become suitable for breeding dingy skippers. The placement of large flat stones in a low wall next to plants of birdís-foot trefoil can encourage females to lay their eggs there, as the stone absorbs heat and may enhance the development of eggs and larvae.

References

  • Barbour, D., Moran, S, Mainwood, T & Slater, B 2008. Atlas ofr Butterflies in Highland & Moray. Big Sky.
  • Futter, K., Sutcliffe, R., Welham, D., Welham, A., Rostron, A., MacKay, J., Gregory, N., McCleary, J., Tait, T., Black, J. & Kirkland, P. 2006. Butterflies of South West Scotland. Argyll Publishing. (see Atlas page)
  • Asher, J., Warren, M, Fox, R., Harding, P., Jeffcoate, G., Jeffcoate, S. 2001. The Millennium Atlas of Butterflies in Britain & Ireland. Oxford University Press.
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  • Fox, R., Asher, J., Brereton, T., Roy, D., Warren, M. 2006. The State of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland. Pisces Publications.
  • Thomson, G. 1982. The Butterflies of Scotland. Croom Helm London.
  • Tomlinson, D. & Still, R. 2002. Britainís Butterflies. WILDGuides.

Written by Scott Shanks


 
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