Hylephila phyleusfiery skipper

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Geographic Range

Fiery skippers range in the Nearctic region throughout the southern United States and east toward the Atlantic. They are not found, however, in the Rockies or the Great Basin. Their southern range extends into the Subtropical region to Argentina and the Antilles. In North America, fiery skippers immigrate into northern areas but cannot overwinter in any life stage in regions that have harsh winters. (Iftner, et al., 1992; Opler, 1984; Pyle, 1995; Scott, 1986; Blue and Parks, ; )

Habitat

Fiery skippers are found most often in open areas, grassy fields, meadows, lawns, and alfalfa and clover fields. (Iftner, et al., 1992; Pyle, 1995)

Physical Description

Extremely short antennae distinquish fiery skippers. They are less than 1/2 the length of the forewing. Females are yellowish-brown with small dark spots, males are fiery orange/yellow with a zigzagged border and a large black stigma (a gland used to excrete pheremones) on the forewing. Their wingspans run between 1.0 - 1.25 inches, with the females slightly larger. (Iftner, et al., 1992; Pyle, 1995)

The larvae of fiery skippers are tan colored and densely covered with short haris. They have three dark lateral stripes, and a large, dark head that looks segmented from the rest of the body. (Pyle, 1995)

The eggs are glossy, and pale turquoise/green and are hemispherically shaped (Opler, 1984; Pyle, 1995; Scott, 1986)

The chrysalis of fiery skippers are light tan in color with a black dorsal line than runs from end to end. (Pyle, 1995)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • Range wingspan
    32 to 25 mm
    1.26 to 0.98 in

Development

Fiery skippers develop from eggs to larvae, larvae to pupae, and pupae into chrysalis. The adults emerge from the chrysalis and fly off to mate and start the process over again.

Reproduction

Male fiery skippers will perch close to the ground on twigs or blades of grass and await females. The fluttering of any winged insect passing by will evoke a response from the waiting males. (Opler, 1984)

In the southern parts of their range, fiery skippers have many broods. If they are able to immigrate into northern areas, they may have a single brood in late summer. (Scott, 1986)

Eggs are laid singly on the undersides of leaves, and occasionally on other plants and objects. Eggs are placed on weedy grasses such as crabgrass Digiteria spp. and Bermuda grass Cynodon dactylon. (Opler, 1984)

  • Breeding interval
    Fiery skippers have several broods throughout the year in the southern portions of their range, and a single brood in the north.
  • Breeding season
    The breeding is year around in the southern parts of the range, and in mid to late summer in the north.

Butterflies are not know to exhibit parental care.

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement

Behavior

Fiery skippers are fast, darting butterflies. (Iftner, et al., 1992)

The larvae roll and tie leaves to make nests, which tend to be horizontal in lawn settings. (Pyle, 1995; Scott, 1986)

Communication and Perception

Like other butterflies, pheromones are likely important in communication of fiery skippers.

Food Habits

Fiery skipper larvae eat a variety of grasses in the Poaceae family, including bent grass Agrostis, sugar cane Sacchiniarum officinarum, bermuda grass Cynodon dactylon, and St. Augustine grass Stenotaphrum secundatum. (Pyle, 1995)

Nectar flowers favored by fiery skippers include red clover Trifolium pratense, alfalfa Medicago sativa, white asters Aster spp., thistles Circium, ironweed Vernonia, knapweed Centaurea, sneezeweed Helenium autumnale, and milkweed Asclepia. (Iftner, et al., 1992; Opler, 1984)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • nectar

Predation

Predators of all life stages of butterflies include a variety of insect parasatoids. These wasps or flies will consume the body fluids first, and then eat the internal organs, ultimately killing the butterfly. Those wasps that lay eggs inside the host body include Ichneumonidae, Braconidae, Pteromalidae, Chalcidoidea, Encyrtidae, Eulophidae, Scelionidae, Trichogrammatidae, and others. Trichogrammatidae live inside the eggs, and are smaller than a pinhead. certain flies (Tachinidae, some Sarcophagida, etc.) produce large eggs and glue them onto the outside of the host. The hatching larvae then burrow into the butterfly larvae. Other flies will lays many small eggs directly on the larval hostplants, and these are ingested by the caterpillars as they feed. (Scott, 1986)

Most predators of butterflies are other insects. Praying mantis, lacewings, ladybird beetles, assasin bugs, carabid beetles, spiders, ants, and wasps (Vespidae, Pompilidae, and others) prey upon the larvae. Adult butterflies are eaten by robber flies, ambush bugs, spiders, dragonflies, ants, wasps (Vespidae and Sphecidae), and tiger beetles. The sundew plant is known to catch some butterflies. (Scott, 1986)

Ecosystem Roles

Fiery skippers are minor pollinators and also serve as prey for a variety of predators.

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • pollinates

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

In regions where fiery skippers are less common, they may attract butterfly enthusiasts who contribute to local economies.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Fiery skipper larvae are considered lawn pests in some parts of their range. (Costa, et al., 2000)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Fiery skippers are stable across their range and of no conservation concern at the present time.

Other Comments

The name Hylephila phyleus is derived from the greek words hyle, which means forest, and philos meaning loving. (Opler, 1984)

Other common names include banded skipper, bordered skipper, great-headed skipper, and wedge-marked skipper. Previously used scientific names for the fiery skipper are Papilio phyleus, H. phareus, Hesperia carin, H. bucephalus, and H. hala. (Miller, 1992; Miller and Brown, 1981)

Contributors

Matthew Wund (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Barb Barton (author), Special Contributors.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
ecotourism

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.

ectothermic

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

heterothermic

having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

metamorphosis

A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.

migratory

makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

nectarivore

an animal that mainly eats nectar from flowers

pheromones

chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

urban

living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.

visual

uses sight to communicate

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

References

Blue, L., B. Parks. "Fiery Skipper" (On-line ). San Diego Natural History Museum Field Guide. Accessed 06/04/03 at http://www.sdnhm.org/fieldguide/inverts/fieryskipper.html.

Costa, H., R. Cowles, J. Hartin, K. Kido, H. Kaya. 2000. "Turfgrass - Fiery Skipper" (On-line ). University of California Integrated Pest Managment Program. Accessed 06/04/03 at http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/r785300811.html.

Glassberg, J. 1999. Butterflies Through Binoculars: the East. NY: Oxford University Press, Inc..

Iftner, D., J. Shuey, J. Calhoun. 1992. Butterflies and Skippers of Ohio. Columbus, OH: Ohio Biological Survey Bulletin, Vol 9 No.1.

Miller, J. 1992. The Common Names of North American Butterflies. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institute Press.

Miller, L., F. Brown. 1981. A Catalogue/Checklist of the Butterflies of American North of Mexico. Lepidopterists' Society Memoir No. 2.

Opler, P. 1984. Butterflies East of the Great Plains. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Pyle, M. 1995. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies. NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Scott, J. 1986. The Butterflies of North America. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Shapiro, A. 1966. Butterflies of the Deleware Valley. American Entomological Society Special Publication.

Struttman, J. 2004. "Butterflies of Texas: Hylephila phyleus" (On-line). USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center. Accessed November 22, 2004 at http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/distr/lepid/bflyusa/tx/500.htm.