Hesperia leonardus

Geographic Range

Hesperia leonardus, the Leonard's skipper, is a native resident of northeastern United States and southern Canada. It has a wide geographic range from Nova Scotia and Maine south to North Carolina, and west to Minnesota and Saskatchewan. There are three H. leonardus subspecies that make up its range. Subspecies H. leonardus leonardus lives in eastern and midwestern United States, and southeastern Canada. Subspecies H. leonardus pawnee lives in the western portion of its range. Subspecies H. leonardus montana occurs only in Colorado. ("Attributes of Hesperia leonardus", 2013; "Hesperia leonardus", 2012; "Hesperia leonardus", 2013)


Hesperia leonardus is associated with savannas, open woodlands, woodland meadows, prairies, and other dry grassy habitats. Other habitats include very open deciduous, coniferous, or mixed woodlands, oak savannas, and grassy rock outcrops. This species is generally confined to native grass assemblages with a dominance of Little Bluestem. ("Hesperia leonardus", 2012; "Hesperia leonardus", 2013; Shuey, 2005)

Physical Description

The Leonard's skipper is a fairly small butterfly with two sets of wings; the fore-wings are angular, narrow, and robust while the hind-wings are shorter and broader. Fore-wing length (base to apex) of males is 1.5 to 1.65 cm. Females are darker, slightly larger, and have more rounded wings. The antennae are fairly short, with clubbed ends that have a sharp, recurved tip. Males and females have different wing markings on the upper surface of the forewings. Males have a narrow, black "brand" of specialized scent scales centrally placed along the long axis of their forewing, and are used for courtship. Females instead have a pattern of light-colored squarish spots on a darker background; these are opaque in the Leonard's skipper. The underside of the Leonard's skipper is rust red, with a prominent band of contrasting ochre to white spots on the hind wings.

The 3 subspecies can be distinguished by coloring. On Hesperia leonardus leonardus, the hindwing below is dark brown with whiteish spots, and the upper wings are dark brown or black with yellow bands. Hesperia leonardus pawnee has hindwings that are yellow or orange with few or no spots below, and the top of forewing is orange with brown borders. For Hesperia leonardus monata, the wings above are brownish red with spots. ("Attributes of Hesperia leonardus", 2013; "Hesperia leonardus", 2012; "Hesperia leonardus", 2013; "Hesperia leonardus", 2014; Clench, 1967)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • Range wingspan
    1.5 to 1.65 cm
    0.59 to 0.65 in


The life cycle of Hesperia leonardus begins when eggs are laid in late summer. The eggs have a gestation period of 10 days. The newly hatched larvae will feed for a short time period and will overwinter as a first instar until spring when feeding and growth resume. The larvae pupate in late July and emerge in August as adults. ("Hesperia leonardus", 2013; "Hesperia leonardus", 2013; "Hesperia leonardus", 2014)


Shortly after emergence from pupation in late summer, males will court females by patrolling and perching on nectar plants. They have specialized scent scales on their wings that are used to attract females. Females respond by descending into the vegetation to mate. ("Hesperia leonardus", 2012; "Hesperia leonardus", 2013)

The Leonard's skipper has an annual reproduction cycle. The eggs are laid on or near host plants in late summer and hatch in about 10 days. Host plants are typically types of grasses that the larvae will eat upon hatching. Hesperia leonardus reaches sexual maturity after emerging from pupation in August. ("Hesperia leonardus", 2013; Swengel and Swengel, 1997)

  • Breeding interval
    Hesperia leonardus has one generation per year.
  • Breeding season
    Mating takes place during the late summer.
  • Range eggs per season
    200 to 250
  • Average gestation period
    10 days

Females of Hesperia leonardus provide provisioning in eggs. After the eggs are laid, they leave and do not return to provide any further care. Males provide no care. ("Hesperia leonardus", 2013)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female


Adult female longevity is about two weeks. ("Hesperia leonardus", 2013)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    14 days


Butterflies of the family Hesperiidae will change their posture in the sun to prevent overheating. They intermittently open their wings partially, often in conjunction with sun-minimizing posture. They alternate between periods of feeding and basking. Skipper larvae will build shelters by tying together leaves, and they spend much of their time in these shelters when not feeding on leaves. Leonard's skippers are fast fliers, with a very rapid wing beat that appears as a blur to the human eye. (Clench, 1966)

Communication and Perception

To communicate with females during courtship, males produce sex pheromones from the scent scales on their wings. These attract potential female mates and draw them towards the males. Hesperia leonardus likely also uses chemoreception to perceive its environment, and also likely uses visual cues to find mates and flowers for nectar. ("Hesperia leonardus", 2012; "Hesperia leonardus", 2013)

Food Habits

Larvae feed on grasses, and adults feed on nectar from flowers. Some common species that adults are attracted to are blazing stars (Liatris), goldenrods (Solidago), asters (Aster), and iron weed (Veronia). ("Hesperia leonardus", 2013)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • nectar


There is no information on predators of Hesperia leaonardus, but it is likely that birds and other flying insects prey on adults.

Ecosystem Roles

Hesperia leonardus impacts the ecosystem by pollinating wildflowers while feeding on nectar. ("Hesperia leonardus", 2013)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • pollinates

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There are no known positive effects of Hesperia leonardus on humans.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known negative effects of Hesperia leonardus on humans.

Conservation Status

Hesperia leonardus has no federal conservation status. However, as a species that is restricted to prairie and grassland habitats, habitat destruction is a threat to populations of H. leonardus, particularly in Minnesota. Additionally, herbicides, over-grazing by livestock, and prairie fires can cause high mortality in both adults and larvae. Conservation efforts in Minnesota to preserve these habitats are in effect. ("Hesperia leonardus", 2013)


Courtney Johnson (author), Minnesota State University, Mankato, Robert Sorensen (editor), Minnesota State University, Mankato, Angela Miner (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



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

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


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.

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

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.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


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.


the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


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.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats nectar from flowers


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

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


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


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).


Living on the ground.

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.


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.


uses sight to communicate


2013. "Attributes of Hesperia leonardus" (On-line). Butterflies and Moths of North America. Accessed March 26, 2013 at http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Hesperia-leonardus.

2014. "Hesperia leonardus" (On-line). Encyclopedia of Life. Accessed March 26, 2013 at http://eol.org/pages/184684/details.

2013. "Hesperia leonardus" (On-line). Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Accessed March 26, 2013 at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/rsg/profile.html?action=elementDetail&selectedElement=IILEP65060.

2012. "Hesperia leonardus" (On-line). NatureServe Explorer. Accessed March 26, 2013 at http://www.natureserve.org/explorer/servlet/NatureServe?sourceTemplate=tabular_report.wmt&loadTemplate=species_RptComprehensive.wmt&selectedReport=RptComprehensive.wmt&summaryView=tabular_report.wmt&elKey=118637&paging=home&save=true&startIndex=1&nextStartIndex=1&reset=false&offPageSelectedElKey=118637&offPageSelectedElType=species&offPageYesNo=true&post_processes=&radiobutton=radiobutton&selectedIndexes=118637&selectedIndexes=106802&selectedIndexes=121210&selectedIndexes=119670.

2013. "Leonard's skipper (Hesperia leonardus)" (On-line). Wisconcin Department of Natural Resources. Accessed March 26, 2013 at http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/EndangeredResources/Animals.asp?mode=detail&SpecCode=IILEP65060.

Clench, H. 1966. Behavioral Thermoregulation in Butterflies. Ecology, 47/6: 1021-1034. Accessed May 02, 2013 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/1935649.pdf?acceptTC=true.

Clench, H. 1967. Temporal Dissociation and Population Regulation in Certain Hesperiine Butterflies. Ecology, 48/6: 1000-1006.

Shuey, J. 2005. Assessing the Conservation Value of Complementary System of Habitat Reserves Relative to Butterfly Species at Risk and Divergent Populations. American Midland Naturalist, 153/1: 110-120.

Spomer, S., L. Higley, T. Orwig, G. Selby, L. Young. 1993. Clinal Variation in Hesperia Leonardus (Hesperiidae) In the Loess Hills of the Missouri River Valley. Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society, 47/4: 291-302. Accessed May 01, 2013 at http://images.peabody.yale.edu/lepsoc/jls/1990s/1993/1993-47%284%29291-Spomer.pdf.

Swengel, A., S. Swengel. 1997. Co-occurrence of prairie and barrens butterflies: applications to ecosystem conservation. Journal of Insect Conservation, 1/2: 131-144.

Swengel, A., S. Swengel. 1999. Observations of Prairie Skippers (Oarisma poweshiek, Hesperia dacotae, H. ottoe, H. leonardus pawnee, and Atrytone Arogos iowa)( Lepidoptera: Hesperiidae) in Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota During 1988-1997. The Great Lakes Entomologist, 32/4: 267-292.