Butterflies of Britain
Family - HESPERIIDAE
Ochlodes sylvanus, male, Waterperry
Wood, Oxfordshire ©
The Large Skipper, in
common with most members of the sub-family Hesperiinae, feeds in the
larval stage on grasses.
Adult butterflies in
this sub-family frequently adopt a characteristic resting posture as
shown above, with the forewings held at 45 degrees, and the
hindwings held almost flat. Another characteristic is the presence
of a dark streak of androconia ( pheromone producing scales ) on the
forewings of males, as shown above.
There are a vast number
of very similar species found throughout the world. In Britain
however the only similar species is the Silver-spotted Skipper,
which can easily be told apart by the presence on the latter of
prominent silvery spots on the underside hindwings.
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; and that the species
occurring in Britain and Europe is actually
Ochlodes sylvanus ( also known as
Ochlodes sylvanus female, Fermyn
wood, Northamptonshire ©
Large Skippers can be found commonly throughout England and Wales in
almost any grassy habitat but they tend 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. Open grasslands are also
used but populations tend to be much lower.
Ochlodes sylvanus male, Wiltshire ©
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, Glapthorn,
Skippers have a rapid whirring flight, 'skipping' from leaf to leaf.
They bask with wings held in the characteristic position as
illustrated, typically on bramble leaves, bracken, or grass heads.
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.
He perches with wings either erect or in the characteristic Hesperiine
posture, and darts up to intercept every small passing insect.
Ochlodes sylvanus male, Hungerford,
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 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
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.
territorial male perching on grass head, Ballard Down, Dorset ©