Burnsius communis

Geographic Range

Common checkered skippers have a wide distribution. They can be found throughout North America, from southern Canada to Mexico. They are also found in South America, as far south as Argentina.

Although common checkered skippers have been reported in southern Canada and New England, they do not tolerate cold winters well and may only be seasonal residents of colder regions. ("Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper Burnsius communis/albescens", 2021; "Common Checkered-Skipper Pyrgus communis (Grote, 1872)", 2021)


Common checkered skippers are habitat generalists, but are restricted to areas that support their host-plant, mallow (genus Malva). They are primarily found in open, sunny, and disturbed sites. Such areas include roadsides, ditches, farmland, fields, pastures, prairies, yards, gardens, open trails or patches of forest, landfills, and meadows. ("Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper Burnsius communis/albescens", 2021; "Common Checkered-Skipper Pyrgus communis (Grote, 1872)", 2021)

Physical Description

Common checkered skippers have wingspans between 1.9 and 3.8 cm. They have a characteristic black and white checkered pattern on the ventral side of their wings. They are sexually dimorphic throughout much of their range, with females being slightly darker than males. Males also have a more densely hairy body. There is polymorphism between individuals, and coloration can vary from black and white to brown, gray, or steely blue. The dorsal sides of their wings are often brown to tan and cream to white, still with a checkered pattern.

Common checkered skippers lay eggs that are pale green and circular, with small protrusions that give them a rough appearance.

Common checkered skipper caterpillars are light green with a slight, dark green line running dorsally the length of their bodies and two white lines on each side. They have black heads with fine, white hairs, and a reddish-brown collar at the base.

Common checkered skipper pupae are green or brown,. They are uniformly speckled on one side and smooth on the other. ("Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper Burnsius communis/albescens", 2021; "Common Checkered-Skipper Pyrgus communis (Grote, 1872)", 2021)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • Range wingspan
    1.9 to 3.2 cm
    0.75 to 1.26 in


Common checkered skippers, like all butterflies and moths, undergo complete metamorphosis. Pupae overwinter in the soil and emerge as adults in the spring.


Male common checkered skippers patrol for females throughout the day, but are more active in the afternoon. They are commonly seen in groups, though they are not considered social. Males fly near to the ground in search of mates, often following an erratic flight path. Mating usually takes place in the afternoon or early evening, after which females lay eggs singly on leaves and buds of host-plants. ("Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper Burnsius communis/albescens", 2021; "Common Checkered-Skipper Pyrgus communis (Grote, 1872)", 2021)

The breeding intervals of common checkered skippers are not well known. However, they are typically active from March through October, and typically mate within this timeframe. Common checkered skipper caterpillars hatch and grow throughout the summer and fall. They pupate before winter and overwinter in the soil, then emerge as adults in the spring. ("Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper Burnsius communis/albescens", 2021)

Common checkered skippers do not display any parental involvement beyond the act of mating.

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement


Little research has been done on the lifespan of common checkered skippers. However, skipper species typically only live 2 to 4 weeks after emerging as adults, during which time they mate and females lay eggs.


Common checkered skippers are mainly solitary, only aggregating in large numbers to mate. Mating events are typically observed between February and October in warmer regions, and between March and September in colder regions.

Common checkered skipper caterpillars use silk to encase themselves in leaves during the day to avoid predation. ("Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper Burnsius communis/albescens", 2021; "Common Checkered-Skipper Pyrgus communis (Grote, 1872)", 2021)

Communication and Perception

There has been little research into the communication and perception of common checkered skippers. However, they likely use a combination of visual and chemical cues.

Food Habits

Common checkered skipper caterpillars are typically found on mallow plants (family Malvaceae). According to the University of South Florida, common host-plants include mallows (Malva spp.), false mallows (Malvastrum spp.), Carolina bristle ballow (Modiola carliniana), hollyhock (Alcea rosea), fanpetals (Sida spp.), velvet leaf (Abutilon theophrasti), globemallows (Sphaeralcea spp.), and poppy mallows (Callirhoe spp.).

Adult common checkered skippers feed on nectar and are often found on white, composite flowers of aster plants (family Asteraceae). Examples include shepherd's needles (Bidens alba) and fleabanes (Erigeron spp.). ("Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper Burnsius communis/albescens", 2021; "Common Checkered-Skipper Pyrgus communis (Grote, 1872)", 2021)

Mallows (Malva spp.)

False mallows (Malvastrum spp.)

Carolina bristle mallow (Modiola carliniana)

Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)

Fanpetals (Sida spp.)

Velvet leaf (Abutilon theophrasti)

Globemallows (Sphaeralcea)

Poppy mallow (Callirhoe)


Not enough is known about specific parasitoids and predators of common checkered skippers. They likely have one or more species of larval parasitoids, as well as natural predators such as birds, squirrels, and other arthropods.

Common checkered skipper caterpillars often encase themselves in leaves to take shelter when not feeding. They are also a light green color, which helps them blend in with surrounding foliage. ("Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper Burnsius communis/albescens", 2021)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Adult common checkered skippers feed on nectar of various aster plants (family Asteraceae) and lay their eggs on mallow plants (family Malvaceae). It is likely that common checkered skippers have a role as a pollinators for some or all of these plants. ("Bug Day: Checkered Skipper", 2021)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • pollinates

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Although there have not been in-depth studies on the specific impact of common checkered skippers, they are likely important in the regulation and pollination of their host plants. ("Bug Day: Checkered Skipper", 2021)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of common checkered skippers on humans.

Conservation Status

Common checkered skippers have no special status on the IUCN Red List, CITES, or the U.S. Federal List.

Other Comments

Common checkered skippers have undergone some taxonomic change. They were formerly characterized in the genus Pyrgus before being moved into the genus Burnsius.

Morphologically, common checkered skippers are almost identical to another species, white checkered skippers (Burnsius albescens). Their differences can only be distinguished under a microscope, and are therefore studied together or misidentified in many cases. ("Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper Burnsius communis/albescens", 2021; "Burnsius communis - Pyrgus communis", 2021)


Claire Walther (author), Special Projects, Galen Burrell (editor), Special Projects.



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


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

World Map


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.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.


a period of time when growth or development is suspended in insects and other invertebrates, it can usually only be ended the appropriate environmental stimulus.


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


union of egg and spermatozoan


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


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.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


active during the night


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


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


"many forms." A species is polymorphic if its individuals can be divided into two or more easily recognized groups, based on structure, color, or other similar characteristics. The term only applies when the distinct groups can be found in the same area; graded or clinal variation throughout the range of a species (e.g. a north-to-south decrease in size) is not polymorphism. Polymorphic characteristics may be inherited because the differences have a genetic basis, or they may be the result of environmental influences. We do not consider sexual differences (i.e. sexual dimorphism), seasonal changes (e.g. change in fur color), or age-related changes to be polymorphic. Polymorphism in a local population can be an adaptation to prevent density-dependent predation, where predators preferentially prey on the most common morph.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


offspring are all produced in a single group (litter, clutch, etc.), after which the parent usually dies. Semelparous organisms often only live through a single season/year (or other periodic change in conditions) but may live for many seasons. In both cases reproduction occurs as a single investment of energy in offspring, with no future chance for investment in reproduction.


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


lives alone


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


uses sight to communicate


2021. "Bug Day: Checkered Skipper" (On-line). Chavez Park Conservancy. Accessed January 17, 2022 at https://chavezpark.org/bug-day-10-checkered-skipper/.

Iowa State University Department of Entomology. 2021. "Burnsius communis - Pyrgus communis" (On-line). BugGuide. Accessed November 24, 2021 at https://bugguide.net/node/view/1770234/bgimage.

Butterfly Atlas, USF Water Institute, University of South Florida. 2021. "Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper Burnsius communis/albescens" (On-line). Alabama Butterfly Atlas. Accessed November 24, 2021 at https://alabama.butterflyatlas.usf.edu/species/details/131/common-checkered-skipper-white-checkered-skipper.

Metalmark Web and Data. 2021. "Common Checkered-Skipper Pyrgus communis (Grote, 1872)" (On-line). Butterflies and Moths of North America. Accessed January 17, 2022 at https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Pyrgus-communis.