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Butterfly Conservation- Glasgow & South West Scotland Branch


Large Skipper (Ochlodes venata)

Description

The Large Skipper is the largest of the golden skippers in South West Scotland (wingspan 29-36 mm). Unlike the Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris) and the Essex Skippers (Thymelicus lineola) that have only recently expanded their range into South West Scotland, the Large Skipper has been resident for a number of decades, but it too seems to be responding to changes in climate and land use by spreading northwards. The large skipper is a robust butterfly with golden-orange wings and rapid busy flight. The sexes are easily told apart, with the smaller males having a line of black pheromone scales (sex-brand) across their forewings and more contrasting yellow-orange chequered markings on the upper forewings and underwings. When at rest the forewings are held angled away from the body in a distinctive Skipper posture, as if in readiness for flight..

Credit: Jim Black
Credit: Scott Shanks
Credit: Scott Shanks

Life Cycle

After emerging in June, the males set about forming territories near long uncut grasses and finding mates. Much of the rest of the time is spent nectaring and basking in the sun. If females are plentiful in a colony, the males patrol back and forth seeking out mates and chasing away rivals. If there are few females, the males utilise a more sedate strategy, using a perch to keep watch for potential mates. The dome-shaped pale green eggs are laid singly on the underside of broad grass blades. The grass Cockís foot (Dactylis glomerata) is the favoured larval food plant, but purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea) or false brome (Brachypodium sylvaticaum) grass blades will also be used. The eggs hatch after about 2 weeks and the bluish-green caterpillar sets about making a grass-tube shelter using silk threads attached to each edge of the leaf blade. The nocturnal-feeding caterpillar is slow growing and only leaves its grass-tube to feed. As autumn approaches the caterpillar goes into hibernation in itís grass and silk shelter before resuming feeding in the spring. When fully grown the caterpillar (~28mm) forms a pupa among leaf blades a couple of centimetres above the ground. The dark chrysalis often appears to be dusted in waxy white powder.

Flight Times

In South West Scotland adults can be found on the wing during June and July, with occasional sightings in August. Numbers tend to peak from mid June to mid July.

Habitat & Distribution in SW Scotland

Distribution map 2010

The large Skipper is found throughout Dumfries and Galloway, and South Ayrshire. Good places to see this butterfly include Feoch Meadows, Port Patrick and The Butterfly Conservation reserve at Mabie Forest near Dumfries (NX950710).

The butterfly favours sheltered habitats, often damp, with tall uncut grass and many nectar-rich flowers. It can be found in meadows, along roadside verges, hedgerows and woodland clearings. It will readily utilise urban habitats such as gardens, church yards or parks if it has long grass that is left uncut. Management techniques whereby sections of grass are left uncut each year greatly enhance the large skipperís survival as itís eggs, larvae and pupae are all vulnerable to grass cutting. The butterfly has a relatively stable distribution in South West Scotland, but there is evidence of significant northward spread in England, particularly into North Eastern counties.

References

  • 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.
  • Tomlinson, D. & Still, R. 2002. Britainís Butterflies. WILDGuides
  • Written by Scott Shanks


     
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