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Butterflies of temperate Asia
Large Skipper
Ochlodes sylvanus  ESPER, 1777
Family - HESPERIIDAE
subfamily - HESPERIINAE
Ochlodes sylvanus male, Adrian Hoskins
Introduction
There are 21 species in the genus Ochlodes, variously distributed across North America, Europe and temperate Asia. 16 species occur in temperate Asia. Most Ochlodes species have a fulvous or dark reddish-brown ground colour, and are marked on the forewings with a diagonal band of suffused pale yellowish streaks. Males of all species have a prominent black streak of androconial scales.
This butterfly has previously always been known by the scientific name Ochlodes venatus. However recent research has revealed that venatus only occurs in China. Korea, Siberia and Japan. The range of Ochlodes sylvanus stretches from western Europe to China.
Ochlodes sylvanus female Adrian Hoskins
Habitats
This species can be found in almost grassy habitat, but tends to favour damp but sunny sites such as woodland glades and rides, humid heaths, wild meadows and riversides. Almost all sites are characterised by the presence of bramble bushes and stands of bracken.
Ochlodes sylvanus male Adrian Hoskins
Lifecycle
The Large Skipper is single brooded throughout it's range, normally emerging in mid-late June, and living for about 3 weeks. A small number of individuals emerge later during July and old faded specimens can often be seen in August.
The pale straw coloured dome-shaped egg is laid singly on the underside of grass blades, typically on cock's foot or false brome. It hatches after about 10 days.
The larvae feed on soft lush grasses, favouring cock's foot Dactylis glomerata on alkaline or neutral soils, and purple moor grass Molinea caerulea on acid soils. Less frequently used larval foodplants include red fescue Festuca rubra and false brome Brachypodium sylvaticum.
The larva spends the early stages of it's life within a tube of grass made by joining together 2 grass blades with strands of silk. It periodically emerges from the tube to eject it's droppings, which are catapulted some distance by flicking them with a comb-like device on it's tail. It hibernates within a newly constructed tent of grasses and resumes feeding in the spring. When fully grown in early May it rests openly on the upperside of grass blades, but retires to it's grass tube in poor weather. The mature larva is green and unmarked, with a purplish black head.
The chrysalis is dark brown and shiny, with the long detached proboscis case projecting almost to the tip of the abdomen. It is formed within the larval shelter, head-upwards, and secured by bristles on the head and cremaster. The pupal stage lasts about 2 weeks.
Ochlodes sylvanus male, Adrian Hoskins
Adult behaviour

The butterflies have a rapid whirring flight, 'skipping' from leaf to leaf. When basking they hold their wings in the characteristic position as illustrated.

Males patrol back and forth across their breeding sites in the late morning on warm sunny mornings to search for freshly emerged females. If unsuccessful at this time they switch to a 'perch and wait' tactic in the afternoon. Typically a male will then seek a sheltered, sunny spot in a woodland glade, a ride intersection, or at the base of a grassy hillside. There he will sit on a tall grass head or on a leaf of bracken or bramble, ready to dart up and investigate any passing insect.

Other males are challenged aggressively and driven off. During these territorial sorties the males buzz frenetically around each other, while flying rapidly in broad circles, soaring to a height of about 4-5 metres above ground level. At this point they separate and the "owner" of the territory returns to it's original perch - or very nearby, while the intruder moves on to set up a territory elsewhere.

When females are encountered they are chased until they settle, usually on a bush or small tree; and copulation follows after a brief courtship ritual. Copulated pairs can often be found settled on bramble or buckthorn bushes, bracken leaves or coarse grasses in the late morning or early afternoon. When copulated both insects keep their wings either closed or held very slightly apart, and are reluctant to fly, but will do so if disturbed.

At grassland sites the butterflies nectar at bird's foot trefoil, clovers and vetches, but in woodlands they particularly favour bramble blossom and thistles. On heathlands the most common nectar sources are cross-leaved heath and bell heather.

Ochlodes sylvanus territorial male perching on grass head Adrian Hoskins

 

 

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