Monday, September 21, 2009

Two Checkered Skippers

For the July count, I tried to cram into my brain an inordinate amount of details regarding butterfly identification. After the count I suffered a bit of burn out, and did not revisit the subject until yesterday. Yesterday, we performed a seasonal NABA count. The old adage that says cramming isn’t learning holds true. If you want to do it, you’ve got to do it right.

Two Checkered Skippers

There are two checkered skippers in the Northwest Louisiana area: the Common Checkered Skipper and the Tropical Checkered Skipper. In theory, the ‘common’ one is more abundant than the ‘tropical’ one - but you’re not out there to make assumptions about populations – you’re out there to make observations.

It’s little and light and skips along the ground… It could be a blue… it could be a hairstreak… You track it and watch it land. It’s checkered, so it’s a checkered skipper.

Step 1: Get an up-close look with your binocular. (It may be all you get.)

Step 2: Take a photograph from a distance.

Step 3: Get closer to the butterfly and take another photograph.

How can you tell which checkered skipper it is? I call it “continental drift.”
Take a look at the images.

The top row shows male and female Common Checkered Skippers. The bottom row features male and female Tropical Checkered Skippers.

Look again.

Common Checkered Skippers have a large spot (the continent) about half-way between the body and the tip of the forewing. Sometimes there is a tiny dot next to it, but usually there is only one large spot.

Tropical Checkered Skippers have the same large spot, though it’s often a tad slimmer. Next to the large spot is a second smaller spot. To me, it looks like an island broke off the mainland and is drifting away.

There are a couple other differences: Common Checkered Skippers have a uniformly checkered fringe, whereas the Tropical Checkered Skippers seem to be missing a few patches of white in the fringe pattern. Also, just inward from the fringe, Tropical Checkered Skippers have a row of white spots that extends all the way to the tip. That row is incomplete on Common Checkered Skippers.

I’ve just received word that the trail through C. Bickham Dickson Park was mowed and widened this morning. So, the place that hosted dozens of Tropical Checkered Skippers yesterday is now devoid of any skippers at all. I hope that movie they’re going to film out there is a good one.

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