Steven Cheshire's British Butterflies
British Butterflies: Species: Species Account - The Small Skipper:
Small Skipper
Thymelicus sylvestris (Poda, 1761)

Small Skipper egg.
  Small Skipper caterpillar.
  Small Skipper chrysalis
Small Skipper
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Insecta: Lepidoptera : Family Hesperiidae: Subfamily Hesperiinae : Genus Thymelicus: Species sylvestris:
The Small Skipper and Essex Skipper are almost identical in appearance which often makes identification in the field extremely difficult as they are often found living in the same habitats and on the wing at similar times.

One key difference between the Small Skipper and
Essex Skipper is that the Small Skipper has dull brown/orange tips while the Essex Skipper has a distinctive glossy black tips to its antennae. Small Skippers are also slightly more orange in appearance.

The adult butterflies spend much of their time basking or resting on grass stems in typical 'golden skipper' style.

The eggs of the Small Skipper hatch in late summer (unlike those of the
Essex Skipper which do not hatch until the following spring) and the tiny young caterpillars hibernate within the sheath of grass where the eggs were laid. The following spring they feed within a shelter constructed by spinning the edges of grass blades together with fine silk threads to make a narrow feeding tube which also protects the caterpillar from predators. They will emerge and feed in the open at night. As the larvae become larger, they tend to spend more time feeding in the open. The caterpillar is yellowish-green in colour with a pale yellow line running along the length of each side of its body. The head is dark green.

Pupation takes place during May and June at the base of the larval food plant within a silken cocoon spun between grass blades. The pupae are pale green in colour. The adult Small Skipper butterflies tend to emerge during early June with peak numbers seen during July. By September very few adults are on the wing.
Colonies of the Small Skipper can be found where grasses are allowed to grow tall and lush. Habitats include disused railway lines unimproved rough grassland and verges. Colonies can occur on very small patches of suitable habitat such as a roadside and railway verges.
Found throughout England and Wales as far north as Tyne and Wear the Small Skipper is however absent from North-West Wales Lancashire and Cumbria. Its distribution has expanded northwards in recent years.
Where to see the Small Skipper in the British Isles
Other notes
Very difficult to distinguish from the Essex Skipper in the field unless you can get a good view of the underside of the antenna. Experience and knowledge of behavior in the field slight variation in wing shape and colour help to separate the Small Skipper from the Essex Skipper.
Lifecycle chart
Flight chart
The lifecycle and flight charts should be regarded as approximate guides to the Small Skipper in Britain. Specific lifecycle states, adult emergence and peak flight times vary from year to year due to variations in weather conditions.
IUCN category status 2010 5   IUCN category status 2007 34
--awaiting data-- --awaiting data--

5Fox, R., Warren, M., Brereton, T. M., Roy, D. B. & Robinson, A.
(2010) A new Red List of British Butterflies. Insect Conservation and Diversity.
Least Concern Least Concern

3Fox, R., Warren, M & Brereton, T.
(2007) New Red List of British Butterflies. Butterfly Conservation, Wareham.

4More information about IUCN categories.
UK status
Larval foodplants
Various grasses are used including: Yorkshire-fog (Holcus lanatus), Cock's-foot Grass (Dactylis glomerata) and False Brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum).

Other grasses used include: Timothy Grass (Phleum pratense), Creeping Soft-grass (Holcus mollis), Meadow Foxtail Grass (Alopecurus pratensis) and Tor Grass (Brachypodium pinnatum).

See May. P. R (2003) for more information about larval foodplants.
Butterflies of Britain ID Chart
Your personal guide to British Butterflies. This 8-panel laminated chart is designed for speedy butterfly identification in the field. Ideal for anyone interested in identifying butterflies, perfect for children and adults and ideal for outdoor use, laminated, shower-proof and robust. Get your copy today.
Butterflies of Britain (Laminated ID Chart).
Online store
Visit our online store for many more butterfly related books and gifts.
Population trends 1
UK Population trend 1995-2004 insuficient data
UK Population trend 1976-2004 insuficient data

1Fox, R., Asher. J., Brereton. T., Roy, D & Warren, M. (2006) The State of Butterflies in Britain & Ireland, Pices, Oxford.
UK BAP status 2
UK BAP status not listed (link)

2For information about the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, visit the JNCC web site

National Biodiversity Network Gateway
National Biodiversity Network Gateway Distribution Map

Areas in and indicate a contraction in distribution of the Small Skipper except in Ireland where data is only available up until 1999.

* Records shown in outside the natural distribution may be the result of illegal or accidental releases by breeders or, depending upon the species, migrant individuals from mainland Europe.

Key to map*
= 2000 to 2010 inclusive (current distribution)
= records from 1950 to 1999 inclusive
= records from 1900 to 1949 inclusive
Records prior to 1st January 1900 are not shown.

The NBN Gateway records are shown on the map right. (See terms and conditions).

More data is available on the Small Skipper on the NBN Gateway web site.
Powered by NBN Gateway.
For full details of books and reports mentioned on this web site, view the references page.

Find out more online*
Small Skipper can be found on Peter Eeles excellent UK Butterflies web site.
Small Skipper can be found on Matt Rowlings excellent European Butterflies web site.

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Photographs of the Small Skipper
Image ID BB2298 - Small Skipper - © Steven Cheshire
Small Skipper (imago)
BB2298 ©
Image ID BB2297 - Small Skipper - © Steven Cheshire
Small Skipper (imago)
BB2297 ©
Image ID BB1782 - Small Skipper - © Steven Cheshire
Small Skipper female (imago)
BB1782 ©
Image ID BB1781 - Small Skipper - © Steven Cheshire
Small Skipper female (imago)
BB1781 ©
Image ID BB1780 - Small Skipper - © Steven Cheshire
Small Skipper female (imago)
BB1780 ©
Image ID BB1779 - Small Skipper - © Steven Cheshire
Small Skipper female (imago)
BB1779 ©
Image ID BB1769 - Small Skipper - © Steven Cheshire
Small Skipper male (imago)
BB1769 ©
Image ID BB1768 - Small Skipper - © Steven Cheshire
Small Skipper male (imago)
BB1768 ©
Image ID BB1767 - Small Skipper - © Steven Cheshire
Small Skipper male (imago)
BB1767 ©
Image ID BB1766 - Small Skipper - © Steven Cheshire
Small Skipper male (imago)
BB1766 ©
There are 24 photographs of the Small Skipper in our stock photo library.
View more photographs of the Small Skipper as a thumbnail gallery or as a slideshow.
Aberrations and forms
There are 6 named aberrant forms of the Small Skipper currently listed. Find out more about aberrants here.

ab. intermedia - Frohawk 1938
ab. latenigra - Verity 1920
ab. obscura - Tutt 1906
ab. pallida - Mosley 1896
ab. reversa - Tutt 1906
ab. suffusa - Tutt 1906