Essex skipper

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Essex skipper

The Essex skipper (Thymelicus lineola) is a butterfly in family Hesperiidae. In North America, it is known as the European skipper.

With a wingspan of 2.5 to 2.9 cm, it is very similar in appearance to the small skipper Thymelicus sylvestris. They can be told apart by the undersides of the tips of their antennae: the Essex skipper’s antennae are black, whereas those of the small skipper are orange. This butterfly occurs throughout much of the Palaearctic region.

Its range is from southern Scandinavia through Europe to North Africa and east to Central Asia It was only identified in the UK in 1889, and its range is expanding both in England and in northern Europe. In North America, this butterfly was accidentally introduced in 1910 via London, Ontario and has spread across southern Canada and into several northern US states.

Scientific classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Lepidoptera
  • Family: Hesperiidae
  • Genus: Thymelicus
  • Species: T. lineola
  • Binomial name: Thymelicus lineola


The Essex Skipper forms discrete colonies that vary from a small number of individuals to several thousand. Where it occurs it can therefore be very common. This species is very similar in appearance to the Small Skipper and, because of this similarity, was not recognised as a separate species until 1889. The male is distinguished from the female by the sex brand on its forewings, which is a short line of specialised scent scales.

Despite its name, the Essex Skipper is now found over much of the southern half of England and it was first recorded in Wales in 2000 and in Wexford in south-east Ireland in 2006. On the British mainland it is to generally be found south of a line between Dorset and North Lincolnshire. It is believed that the increase in distribution is being assisted by the steep and grass-covered embankments that are often found on motorways and major trunk roads which acted as corridors – allowing this species to reach new locations more easily.

Foodplants: Cocksfoot grass, Creeping Soft Grass

Best places: Widely found, but try Stour Valley, Alners Gorse, Hatch Pond (Poole)


Typical habitat of Essex Skipper includes rough tall grassland, verges, open fields and woodland rides.

It shares the same habitats as Thymelicus sylvestris (Small Skipper) which it closely resembles.

Essex skipper

The Essex skipper is the most common of the Skippers and darts and can be found in southern and central Finland. It can be differentiated from the large skipper and the silver-spotted skipper by the way that its wing colour is uniform with no blotches. Its forewing has a thin and clearly-defined brown margin.

The Essex skipper flies erratically and quickly, although it is slower than its close relatives. Males fly around looking for females, who lay their eggs individually in the leaf-sheathes of grass plants, where the eggs overwinter. The following year’s caterpillar lives between two leaves that have been woven together.

Life cycle

Eggs are laid in strings on the stems of grasses where they remain over the winter. The Essex skipper’s favoured foodplant is cock’s-foot, and it rarely uses the small skipper’s favoured foodplant Yorkshire fog. Essex skippers’ other foods include creeping soft grass (Holcus mollis), couch grass , timothy-grass, meadow foxtail, false brome and tor-grass.

This skipper’s caterpillars emerge in the spring and feed until June before forming shelters from leaves tied with silk at the base of the foodplant to pupate. Adults fly from July through August. Like most skippers, they are fairly strictly diurnal, though individuals are very rarely encountered during the night.

Also more: Dingy skipper butterfly

Essex skipper images

Image by Erik Karits from Pixabay

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