In Search of the Two-Spotted Skipper

Two-spotted Skipper

Two-spotted Skipper

The first two times I saw a Two-spotted Skipper I didn’t know what they were. They were both perched on the vegetation with their wings folded, the size and shape closely resembling the introduced and often abundant European Skipper….small and plain and orange. That’s exactly what I thought they were, as the Two-spotted Skipper is very rarely mentioned among the local butterfly enthusiasts, let alone other nature generalists. It wasn’t until I uploaded my photos to iNaturalist that my identification was corrected, and I started learning about this rare and local skipper.

The Two-spotted Skipper is one of the sedge skippers, species that feed on various wetland sedges in the caterpillar stage. As a result the adults are most commonly seen nectaring on flowers, particularly milkweeds and Blue Flag Irises, in open areas adjacent to fens, marshes, and other wet meadows. The Two-spotted Skipper overwinters in the caterpillar stage, and only has one generation per year. Adults fly from mid-June to mid-July.

The only two Two-spotted Skippers that I’ve found so far were both in Marlborough Forest. When I heard that they had been seen in a sedge meadow off of Robertson Road recently (much closer to home!) I decided to visit. I got directions (which included parking along the shoulder of Robertson Road) and made the short trek through the woods to get to the meadow. The song of an Indigo Bunting accompanied me as I located a few European Skippers, the most abundant species at the meadow. They were nectaring on various flowers, including Purple Cow Vetch and Yellow Hawkweed.

European Skipper

European Skipper

I don’t take many non-documentary photos of this non-native species, however, two days earlier I had found a few nectaring on some Deptford Pinks (Dianthus armeria) at a spot deeper along the same trail and thought the contrast in colour was quite pretty.

European Skipper

European Skipper

Least Skippers were also out in good numbers. They, too, are small with plain orange wings but are strikingly small. In fact, at 2.5 cm it is Ontario’s smallest butterfly. When perched with its wings out at an angle, the upper wings are dark brown with orange centers. Its abdomen projects well beyond the base of its wings, which is most noticeable when resting with its wings completely closed. The Least Skipper has two generations per year, and as a result it has one of the longest flight seasons of the skippers, flying from June through September. It is a wetland generalist, found near many types of bodies of water adjacent to long grasses.

Least Skipper

Least Skipper

The Long Dash is another generalist that likes wet, grassy meadows, and I’ve found them throughout Stony Swamp. The yellow spots on the underside are distinctive, resembling a stack of books pushed into a crescent shape.

Long Dash Skipper

Long Dash Skipper

The name comes from the long black stigma on the upper side that extends into a second black dash on the males – the stigma is a group of scent scales located on the forewing which releases pheromones to attract females. You can see the two long dash marks when they perch with their wings open:

Long Dash Skipper

Long Dash Skipper (male)

I was lucky enough to find a pair mating. While the patterns on the upper side differ between males and females, the patterns on the underside of the wings look similar. However, the colour is slightly different – males are more golden-orange while females are more reddish-orange or even brownish. The light isn’t great in this photo, but I think the female is on the right.

Long Dash Skippers mating

Long Dash Skippers mating

One more Long Dash since they were posing so nicely:

Long Dash Skipper

Long Dash Skipper

I continued my walk, finding more orange-coloured Least and European Skippers perching low in the vegetation and nectaring on the cow vetch. Then I found an orange skipper that had distinct white veins extending across the hindwing. I took a closer look and saw the broad, white band on the lower edge of the hindwing. I had found the Two-spotted Skipper, and this time I knew what I was looking at! I followed it around as it flew from flower to flower, hoping to get a look at the upper side. The forewing is dark brown in both sexes, though males have a reddish-orange patch and females have two pale spots. It never did perch with its wings open so I did not see the eponymous two spots.

Two-spotted Skipper

Two-spotted Skipper

I was thrilled to have found it quite easily. I kept an eye out for other sedge skippers, but saw none. Mulberry Wings, Dion Skippers, Dun Skippers and Delaware Skippers have also been reported from this sedge marsh, but I was probably a bit too early for them as they mainly fly in July. I left the area where I found the Two-spotted Skipper and continued walking down the trail, looking for other butterflies to photograph. A Common Ringlet perched nicely on an Oxeye Daisy for me.

Common Ringlet

Common Ringlet

Another hiker noticed me photographing the butterflies and asked me about the butterflies I was shooting. She then proceeded to show me a photo on her camera of one she had just seen resting on the trail a little further along. My jaw dropped as the image showed a beautiful Baltimore Checkerspot right out in the open! She pointed me in the direction where she had seen it, and sure enough it didn’t take me long to see it resting on the ground. These butterflies are much larger than skippers, and difficult to miss with their bold black and orange colouring.

Baltimore Checkerspot

Baltimore Checkerspot

The Baltimore Checkerspot is a member of the brush-footed butterfly family, along with the Common Ringlet and Monarch. It has only one generation per year, and usually peaks in numbers in late June and early July. It is an uncommon and local species in Ontario, living in wet meadows and marshes where its larval foodplant, White Turtlehead, grows. I rarely see more than one or two a year and sometimes never see a single one.

I headed back toward my car after that, finding a summer-form Eastern Comma in the woods. The summer form has extensive dark on brown hindwings compared to the winter form, which is the offspring of the summer form and overwinters as an adult.

Eastern Comma

Eastern Comma

Eastern Comma

Eastern Comma

I was happy to see so many butterflies, but not happy to discover I had also picked up a tick on my walk. Ticks have had a good season in Stony Swamp; this is the first time in a few years that I ended up with one of these blood-sucking hitchhikers on me after wandering off-trail to photograph an interesting butterfly or ode. Unfortunately, I picked up another one at the hydro cut on Old Richmond Road a few weeks later while looking for the Peck’s Skippers there (which I didn’t see – the vegetation was too thick to get to the colony), and after that I was lot more hesitant to venture into the vegetation off-trail.

I am just happy to have another spot close to home where the less common sedge skippers can be found, and hope to return again next season when more species will be flying!

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