Monday, September 28, 2009


Until this summer, I thought skippers captained boats or Navy vessels. Now I know them as members of large family of butterflies. And on Monday, I learned that not all skippers are variously shaded brown.

The Common Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus communis), according to Butterflies and Moths of North America, has not been sighted in Tennessee. I sighted one on University Avenue in front of The Lemon Fair, flitting about from flower to flower, working against the wind to gather food from flowers complementing his fine hue. The Northern Butterfly Association wasn't there with me, but it confirms that others have seen the little charmer here, too.My skipper, a male with a hairy bluish-gray stripe down his thorax and fringed hair fluffing from his hindwings, was a furry fellow with smartly striped black and white antennae, charmingly culminating in a little shoe-shaped knob pointing smartly downwards and backwards and tinted red (think Medieval fools' shoes). He spent much of the afternoon with me just beyond the door, enjoying the twin bursts of flower and sun after too-much rain.

His "tree of life" offers a distinguished, widespread, and enormously prolific family: the little fellow is but one of millions of individuals among 3500 species in the family Hesperiidae and super-family Hesperioidea, some 250+ species of which can be found in North America. When I first paid attention to his cousins this summer, I made what appears to be a common mistake: I took the fliers for moths. One source says, "Skippers are not considered to be 'true' butterflies, but are more closely related to the true butterflies than are the moths." (They sometimes sure look like moths, though.)

After watching and photographing this little fellow, I was happy to read that he may live up to a year, giving pleasure to all members of my species whom he may happen to visit. Fair warning: should you be lucky enough to see a Common Checkered-Skipper, be patient: he's a fast flyer, a skipper of the aeronautical kind, and he'll make your heart skip a beat.

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