Polites sabuleti

Geographic Range

The sandhill skipper can be found in southern British Colombia down through northern Mexico into Baja California. In the US their range expands from the West Coast to western Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and northeastern New Mexico. ("Sandhill Skipper Polites sabuleti (Boisduval, 1852)", 2021)


Sandhill skippers can be found in a wide variety of habitats. Included are areas characterized by alkaline, or salty, soils, and open spaces. Open habitat includes meadows, fields, lawns, marshes, dunes, and grasslands. Alkali-soil habitat also includes salt marshes, grasslands, desert regions, and sagebrush flats, which are common in California and the Southwest. This species is a habitat generalist, and can be found in suburban and urban lots and lawns, cleared land, and roadsides as well.

There are many subspecies of sandhill skippers, mainly distinguished by their elevation ranges. Certain subspecies, such as P. sabuleti tecumseh, occur from 2100 to over 3000 meters (7,000 to 10,000+ ft). Others, such as P. sabuleti sabuleti, which is found in the same region of California, is only recorded from sea level to roughly 450 m (1500 ft). ("GENETICS, ENVIRONMENT, AND SUBSPECIES DIFFERENCES: THE CASE OF POLITES SABULET1 ( Lepidoptera : Hesperii", 1975; "Species Polites sabuleti - Sandhill Skipper - Hodges#4037", 2021; "Sandhill Skipper Polites sabuleti (Boisduval, 1852)", 2021; "Sandhill Skipper - Polites sabuleti", 2021)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 3000+ m
    0.00 to ft

Physical Description

Sandhill skippers are extremely polymorphic, meaning they vary widely in color and pattern. These differences are especially prominent between different populations from different geographic regions. To help understand these differences, scientists classify sandhill skippers into several different subspecies depending on where they are from. Although there are at least 13 different subspecies, in general, the skippers appear as follows: dark orange to yellow coloration on the dorsal (back) side of their wings, with jagged, brown margins along the outside of both hind and forewings. Males typically have a characteristic set of dorsal black splotches, one in the middle of each of their forewings. Females typically lack these markings, making them sexually dimorphic and easily distinguishable. The ventral sides of their wings are similar between sexes, with a cream to orange base, light brown to tan margins, and a lightly checkered pattern on their hindwings. High elevation subspecies and late season generations tend to be smaller and hairier than low elevation subspecies or summer generations.

Caterpillars are brown, with a subtle dark line running down their back. Their heads are distinct from the rest of their bodies, and are shiny and black with two white dashes on top. ("GENETICS, ENVIRONMENT, AND SUBSPECIES DIFFERENCES: THE CASE OF POLITES SABULET1 ( Lepidoptera : Hesperii", 1975; "Species Polites sabuleti - Sandhill Skipper - Hodges#4037", 2021; "Species Polites sabuleti", 2021)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • Range wingspan
    2.2 to 3.2 cm
    0.87 to 1.26 in


Adult female sandhill skippers lay eggs singly on or around caterpillar host plants. These oviposition sites often include the soil around host plants as well, or the undersides of leaves. Females have been observed in captivity to lay around 40 eggs in a week. The eggs hatch in 1 to 2 weeks, depending on temperature. Larvae develop through 5 instars before pupating, which can take between 3 to 10 weeks, also depending on temperature. In some subspecies, chrysalids overwinter and hatch as adults in the spring. In some lowland subspecies, the first group of chrysalids will hatch quickly and a second generation will occur. These subspecies with more than one generation per year are considered multivoltine, and the final group of chrysalids typically overwinters. One subspecies, P. sabuleti sabuleti, which is typically found at sea level in California, can have up to 5 generations per year. The higher in elevation the population is, the fewer generations they typically have per year. This is connected to temperature as well.

While caterpillars are developing, they build silk and leaf "tubes" to retreat into. ("GENETICS, ENVIRONMENT, AND SUBSPECIES DIFFERENCES: THE CASE OF POLITES SABULET1 ( Lepidoptera : Hesperii", 1975; "Species Polites sabuleti - Sandhill Skipper - Hodges#4037", 2021; "Sandhill Skipper - Polites sabuleti", 2021; "Species Polites sabuleti", 2021)


Not enough is known about the mating systems of this species.

Sandhill skippers reach sexual maturity as soon as they emerge from pupation. Females are known to lay up to 40 eggs in one week, the developmental time of these eggs being highly variable based on elevation, season, and temperature.

Adult males are often observed perching during the day. They will sit and wait in low places for females to pass by. ("Sandhill Skipper - Polites sabuleti", 2021)

  • Breeding interval
    Adults have one breeding period in their lifetime, which occurs when they emerge from pupation at varying times throughout a year.
  • Breeding season
    Adults have one breeding period in their lifetime, which occurs when they emerge from pupation at varying times throughout a year.
  • Average eggs per season

This species does not display any parental investment.

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement


The lifespan of this species varies based on temperature and elevation. All adults live only for one mating season.


Due to the high variation in generations per year of sandhill skippers, different populations have very different flight seasons. In multivoltine, lowland populations, flights can occur from March all the way through November. In higher elevation or univoltine populations, flights typically happen later and end earlier. For examples, the alpine subspecies P. sabuleti tecumseh usually emerges in August and flies through September. They do not migrate. ("GENETICS, ENVIRONMENT, AND SUBSPECIES DIFFERENCES: THE CASE OF POLITES SABULET1 ( Lepidoptera : Hesperii", 1975)

Communication and Perception

This species likely communicates primarily through chemical signals, including pheromones. Other perception channels include tactile and visual cues.

Food Habits

Sandhill skipper caterpillars feed on grasses. Their main larval hostplants are alkali grass (Distichlis spicata) and Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon). While alkali grass used to be considered their main hostplant, Bermuda grass has grown in popularity for this species considering it is a prolific, introduced grass common in urban and suburban settings. Other observes plant hosts include bentgrass (Agrostis), multiple species of fescues (Festuca), barley (Hordeum), bluegrass or meadowgrass (Poa), salt grass (Puccinellia), and dropseed grasses (Sporobolus).

Adults feed on nectar from flowers including Astragalus, plumeless thistles (Carduus), plume thistles (Cirsium), knapweeds (Centaurea), rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus), spider flowers (Cleome), fleabane (Erigeron), gumweed (Grindelia), asters (Haplopappus), golden asters (Heterotheca), American asters (Symphyotrichium), sneezeweed (Helenium), tansyaster (Machaeranthera), medick (Medicago), phlox (Phlox), buckwheat or knotweed (Polygonum), goldenrods (Solidago), dandelions (Taraxacum), clover (Trifolium), and crownbeard (Verbesina). These skippers have also been documented feeding on nutrients and minerals in soil and mud. ("GENETICS, ENVIRONMENT, AND SUBSPECIES DIFFERENCES: THE CASE OF POLITES SABULET1 ( Lepidoptera : Hesperii", 1975; "Species Polites sabuleti - Sandhill Skipper - Hodges#4037", 2021; "Sandhill Skipper - Polites sabuleti", 2021)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • nectar


There are no specific predators known for this species. However, like most other insects, there are likely insect parasitoids and predators, as well as avian and mammalian predators such as birds and squirrels.

Ecosystem Roles

More research needs to be done into the ecosystem roles of this species.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

More research needs to be done into the economic importance of this species.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

More research needs to be done into the economic importance of this species.

Conservation Status

There is no recorded conservation status for this species. ("Sandhill Skipper Polites sabuleti (Boisduval, 1852)", 2021)

Other Comments

Sandhill skippers have around 13 different subspecies, and one species classified simply as P. sabuleti. Known subspecies include: Baja California - P. sabuleti margaretae, Santa Barbara, CA - P. sabuleti channelensis, California (general) - P. sabuleti sabuleti, California (Sierra Nevada region, high elevation) - P. sabuleti tecumseh, California/Nevada (White Mountain region) - P. sabuleti albamontana, Reese R. Valley, NV - P. sabuleti basinensis, Steptoe Valley, NV - P. sabuleti nigrescens, Widespread: SE CA, NV, AZ, UT - P. sabuleti chusca, South to Central Colorado - P. sabuleti ministigma. ("Species Polites sabuleti", 2021)


Claire Walther (author), Special Projects, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



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 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

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.


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.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


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.


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


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.


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).

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

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


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


uses touch to communicate


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 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.


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


uses sight to communicate


1975. GENETICS, ENVIRONMENT, AND SUBSPECIES DIFFERENCES: THE CASE OF POLITES SABULET1 ( Lepidoptera : Hesperii. The Great Basin Naturalist, Vol. 35, No. 1: pp. 33-38. Accessed November 24, 2021 at https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/41711452.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3A3b928d9aa412b26cd60e30d8c4e12d6f.

Montana Field Guide. Montana Natural Heritage Program. 2021. "Sandhill Skipper - Polites sabuleti" (On-line). Montana Field Guide. Accessed November 24, 2021 at https://fieldguide.mt.gov/speciesDetail.aspx?elcode=IILEP66020.

Metalmark Web and Data. 2021. "Sandhill Skipper Polites sabuleti (Boisduval, 1852)" (On-line). Butterflies and Moths of North America. Accessed October 24, 2021 at https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Polites-sabuleti.

2021. "Species Polites sabuleti" (On-line). Butterflies of America. Accessed November 24, 2021 at http://butterfliesofamerica.com/t/Polites_sabuleti_a.htm.

Iowa State University Department of Entomology. 2021. "Species Polites sabuleti - Sandhill Skipper - Hodges#4037" (On-line). BugGuide. Accessed November 17, 2021 at https://bugguide.net/node/view/39683.