Hesperia ottoe

Geographic Range

Historically, the Ottoe skipper occupies a range from northern Texas through the Great Plains to southwestern Manitoba, and east through the tallgrass prairie region to northern Indiana and southern Michigan. This skipper has been reported in 14 U.S. states as well as Manitoba, Canada. (Cuthrell, 2004; Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2014)


Hesperia ottoe is a prairie-dependent species and is found in a wide range of prairie types, from undisturbed tall-grass and mixed-grass prairies on the Great Plains to dry or sand prairies near the Great Lakes. It is typically found in areas where mid-height grasses such as little bluestem, prairie dropseed and side-oats grama are a major component of the vegetation. However, around 99% of tall-grass prairie has been destroyed, restricting the Ottoe skipper's habitat mainly to nature preserves. (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2014; Shepherd, 2005; Swengel and Swengel, 2013)

Physical Description

Hesperia ottoe is a large, stout species of butterfly called skippers, with a wingspan ranging from 29 to 43 mm. This skipper has a thick body, with thin, angular forewings, and shorter, more rounded hind wings. Females have a tendency to be larger than males. For males, the outer wing surface is typically bright orange with a dark brown border and a distinct black stigma (specialized scent scales) on the forewing. Females have brownish-orange outer wings with dark markings and several off-white translucent spots near the center of the forewing. Both sexes have a yellow-orange lower wing surfaces. This lower wing surface is unmarked in males, but females have a faint post-median spot on the hindwing. Their antennae are short with clubbed ends and a sharp tip that points backwards. Since they are strong, fast fliers, they often appear as a blur to the human eye when in flight. Hesperia ottoe is distinguishable from the closely related Dakota skipper (Hesperia dacotae) by its significantly larger size. (Cuthrell, 2004; Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2014; Selby, 2005)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • Range wingspan
    29 to 43 mm
    1.14 to 1.69 in


Hesperia ottoe is univoltine and has a single annual generation. The entire life cycle must be successfully completed each year for the population to persist in that region. Adults emerge from pupae in mid to late June or July, with males emerging a few days before females. Shortly after emerging, females will search for a mate, and mating then takes place on host plants. The female will deposit the eggs on host grasses or forbs. The eggs will hatch in approximately 12 to 13 days. There are 7 larval instars (stages) for this species. First through third instar larvae live above ground in shelters they construct from grass blades tied with silk one to two inches above the soil, emerging for only brief periods to gather pieces of grass to consume within their shelter. They will construct 2 to 3 of these shelters in the first three instars. Fourth instar larvae shift to subterranean shelters formed among the bases of grass culms. They then enter the fifth larval instar, during which they enter winter diapause within their buried shelter. They will remain at this fifth larval instar until mid-April to early May, when they emerge from their underground shelter and enter the 6th and 7th larval instars, during which they construct a horizontal shelter along the soil surface. Within this final shelter pupation occurs. The adults will finally emerge 12 to 19 days after pupation. The life expectancy for adults of this species is a few days to a week. (Cuthrell, 2004; Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2014; Selby, 2005; Shepherd, 2005)


For male Ottoe skippers, "perching" is the primary mate-seeking behavior, during which they station themselves near host plants awaiting the arrival of a female. Males sometimes also exhibit "searching" behavior, during which they search for females by flying rapidly from host plant to host plant without landing. Receptive females will descend upon host vegetation to meet the male. Mating occurs immediately after the pair lands on the host vegetation. Females rarely mate more than once, while males mate as much as possible . (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2014; Selby, 2005)

The female Ottoe skipper will lay between 180 to 250 eggs in late June or July, singly on host grasses or forbs, which are suitable for the larvae to eat. The first larval stage will hatch after 12 to 13 days. Each female produces a single brood in their lifetime. (Selby, 2005)

  • Breeding interval
    Ottoe skippers have a single annual generation.
  • Breeding season
    Mating occurs almost immediately after emergence in mid to late June or early July, and oviposition occurs shortly after.
  • Range eggs per season
    180 to 250

Females provide provisioning in their eggs, as well as lay the eggs on a suitable host plant that the larvae can feed on after hatching. Adults provide no more parental care, most likely dying before their offspring hatch. (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2014; Selby, 2005)

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


Adult life expectancy of H. ottoe is a few days to a week in the wild. The complete life cycle for an Ottoe skipper lasts approximately one year, including winter diapause. (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2014)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    3 to 7 days


Since adults of this species only live for a few days, their behavior is focused on finding a mate, reproducing, and ovipositing. Males will either "perch or search", meaning that they will either wait near host plants for receptive females or actively fly from host plant to host plant searching for them. When not searching for mates, they are foraging for food. They are active during the day. (Selby, 2005)

Home Range

Ottoe skippers will live and breed in the same region they hatch in, and do not typically disperse. (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2014)

Communication and Perception

There is little information available about how Hesperia ottoe communicates with others and perceives the environment. It is also unclear how mates attract one another; it is likely pheromones and other chemicals are secreted. Males also loosely aggregate when searching for mates, which may be a visual clue for females. (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2014)

Food Habits

Larvae feed primarily on small bunch grasses such as little bluestem, which are the most suitable for consumption and shelter building. Adult Hesperia ottoe are nectar feeders and require an abundance of flowers to maintain a stable population. Nectar sources include milkweed, purple coneflowers, vetch, alfalfa, leadplant, compassplant, sunflower, and blazing star. When not in search of a mate, adults spend their time foraging. (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2014; Selby, 2005; Shepherd, 2005)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • nectar


Some predation of Ottoe skipper eggs and larval stages by various groups of wasps, ants, and other insects has been observed. Some potential predators of adult Ottoe skippers include crab spiders, ambush bugs, robber flies, and birds. (Selby, 2005)

Ecosystem Roles

Ottoe skippers act as pollinators for the flowers which provide them with nectar. They also serve as prey to a variety of invertebrate predators, as well as birds. (Selby, 2005)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • pollinates

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Hesperia ottoe pollinates flowers, some of which may be of economic importance to humans and ecosystems. (Selby, 2005)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Hesperia ottoe on humans.

Conservation Status

Hesperia ottoe is listed as "threatened" in the states of Minnesota, Michigan, and Illinois, and as a "species of concern" in Iowa and Montana. Habitat destruction is the primary threat to this species. The Ottoe skipper is sensitive to grazing, and heavy periods of grazing can eliminate it from the area even if the prairie is not degraded. Use of herbicides can eliminate the flowers and nectar that the Ottoe skipper depends upon for nourishment, and insecticides from nearby areas of agriculture can eliminate populations of skippers. Small, isolated colonies of Ottoe skippers are at high risk for extirpation resulting from both natural events (such as strong storms or drought) and human caused events. Prairie fires can kill both larval and adult stages of H. ottoe. The protection of this species mainly involves the protection of prairie habitat. Much of the prairie habitat supporting the two largest known Ottoe skipper populations in Minnesota is protected through ownership and management by public or private conservation agencies and organizations. Hesperia ottoe does not have any legal protection at the national level in the United States. (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2014; Selby, 2005)


Courtney Hayes (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


uses sound to communicate

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 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


having more than one female as a mate at one time

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


Cuthrell, D. 2004. "Special animal abstract for Hesperia ottoe (ottoe skipper)" (On-line). Michigan Natural Features Inventory. Accessed March 26, 2014 at http://mnfi.anr.msu.edu/abstracts/zoology/Hesperia_ottoe.pdf.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2014. "Hesperia ottoe" (On-line). Accessed March 15, 2014 at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/rsg/profile.html?action=elementDetail&selectedElement=IILEP65050.

Selby, G. 2005. Ottoe Skipper: a technical conservation assesment. Society for Conservation Biology: 1-36. Accessed March 25, 2014 at http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/projects/scp/assessments/ottoeskipper.pdf.

Shepherd, M. 2005. "The Xerxes Society for Invertebrate Conservation" (On-line). Species Profile: Hesperia ottoe. Accessed March 26, 2014 at http://www.xerces.org/ottoe-skipper/.

Swengel, A., S. Swengel. 2013. Decline of Hesperia ottoe in Northern Tallgrass Prairie Reserves. Insects, 4: 663-682.