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Butterflies - The Tribe Of The Smaller Skippers

( Originally Published 1917 )

In the members of this tribe the tip beyond the club of the antenna is short and the abdomen is long enough to extend as far as or farther than the hind wings. The caterpillars have long and slender bodies with the upper part of the head, when looked at from in front, tapering rather than roundish or square. The chrysalids have the tongue-case free at the tip and projecting beyond the tips of the wing-cases.

The Tawny-edged Skipper

Thymelicus cernes

This is one of the commonest and most widely distributed of all our Skippers. It is found from Nova Scotia to British Columbia, south along the Rocky Mountains to New Mexico, Texas, and Florida. It is apparently absent west of the Rocky Mountains and along the Gulf Coast except in Florida. Its life-history was carefully worked out by Dr. James Fletcher, late entomologist to the Dominion of Canada, and in the north may be summarized thus: the butterflies come from the hibernated chrysalids in May or June. They remain upon the wing for several weeks so that worn specimens may be taken late in July or, rarely, even early in August. The females lay eggs upon grass blades. These eggs hatch about two weeks later, the larvae eating their way out of the shells so slowly that a whole day may be taken up by the operation. Each little caterpillar weaves a silken nest for itself, in which it remains concealed most of the time, reaching out to feed upon adjacent blades of grass but retiring into the nest at the Ieast alarm. It is a sluggish little creature and grows so slowly that in the north it may require more than two months to become full fed as a larva. It is then about an inch long and has the characteristic outlines of the other Skipper larvae, with a black head and a greenish brown body. It now spins a cocoon, possibly using its larval nest as a basis, and some time later, before cold weather surely, it changes to a chrysalis that winters over.

This is the story of the life of the butterfly in the more northern parts of its range. Even in New Hampshire there seems to be at least a partial second brood, and farther south there are probably two regular broods with the possibility that a small percentage of the first set of chrysalids remains unchanged until spring.

The Roadside Skipper

Amblyscirtes vialis

This little butterfly is found apparently in most parts of the United States, as it has been collected in New England, California, Texas, and many intermediate points. Over the northern part of its range there is but one brood a year, In New Hampshire the butterflies appear in May and early dune and lay eggs upon the blades of various grasses. These hatch about ten days later into slender, silk-spinning caterpillars, each of which makes a nest for itself by sewing together the margin of one or more grass blades. When the larvae get larger, they make larger and denser nests with heavy linings of silken web. After the earlier moults, the thin skin is covered with very fine snow-white hairs, between which there is developed a curious whitish exudation, so that the caterpillars have a flocculent appearance. When full grown, they change to delicate green chrysalids which apparently in the North remain until the following spring before disclosing the butterflies. In more southern regions there are two broods each summer.

The Least Skipper Ancyloxipha numitor

The Least Skipper differs from the other Skippers both in structure and habits. Most of these butterflies have thick bodies and a distinct hook at the end of each antenna. This has a slender body and the antennae lack the hook. Most Skippers have strong wings and show their strength in their rapid, erratic flight. This has feeble wings that show their weakness in their slow, straight flight. But from the fact that it is about the smallest of all our butter-flies, expanding little more than three quarters of an inch, it deserves our interested attention. The tawny wings are so marked with broad margins of dark brown that they show the tawny tinge chiefly in the middle spaces.

On account of its small size and its retiring habits this little butterfly is often overlooked by all but the most experienced collectors. It generally flies slowly just above the grass in sijnny places in wet meadows and along the open margins of brooks and marshes. It rests frequently upon grasses, flowers, or bushes. Mr. Scudder noticed that when resting these butterflies have the curious habit of "moving their antennae in a small circle, the motion of the two alternating; that is, when one is moving in a for-ward direction, the other is passing in a reverse direction." This is the sort of observation that should challenge us ali to sharper wits in watching living butterflies. It would be strange if no others thus twirled their feelers in their leisure moments. Who will find out?

The female butterflies at least have something to do besides sipping the nectar of flowers or idly twirling their feelers. They must lay their eggs and thus provide for the continuation of the species; to do this they find suitable blades of grass on which they deposit their tiny, half round, smooth yellow eggs. A. week or so later each egg hatches into a dumpy little yellow caterpillar with a black head and a body well covered with hairy bristles; This little creature is a silk spinner and makes a home instinctively by drawing together more or less the outer edges of a leaf blade and fastening them with transverse bands of silk. It then feeds upon the green tissues and as it grows larger it makes its nest more secure by thicker walls of silken web.

When full grown as a caterpillar it changes into a slender chrysalis generally of a grayish red color, thickly dotted with black. About ten days later it emerges as a butterfly.

The Least Skipper is one of the most widely distributed of all butterflies. It occurs from New England to Texas, south to Florida on the east coast, and west to the Rocky Mountains.

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