Common Name: Skipper
Scientific Name: Varies
Description: Young caterpillars are greenish-white with an oversized black head. Mature larvae are smooth, olive green, tapered toward the back end and have a black head. The body is constricted just behind the head, making larvae appear as if they had a neck. Two or three chalky white spots occur on the underside between the back legs. The male butterfly is orange-brown with a single large black spot on each forewing whereas the female is dark brown with a few silver and orange spots on the forewings. The wingspan is about 1 inch.
There are about 250 different skippers in North America, 11 of which feed on Bermudagrass. This is the only group of butterflies which feed on the forage and turf grasses. The butterflies get their name from the rapid, direct and short flight behavior that make them appear to “skip” across the field.
Life Cycle: Mated females lay 1/20 inch diameter eggs singly and glued to the grass blades. Tiny caterpillars hatch in 4 to 5 days and develop through several stages (instars), maturing in 3 to 4 weeks. They form a black-brown pupa in leaves and soil that may be wrapped with silk. The adult butterfly emerges in about 10 days. Caterpillar numbers are greatest in mid-July.
Habitat and Food Source(s): Caterpillars have chewing mouthparts. Adults have siphoning mouths. Large numbers of larvae (50 or more per square yard) occasionally infest Bermudagrass hay fields, where they consume leaves, leaving only stems and lower foliage and thereby reducing yield. They will also feed on St. Augustinegrass. Caterpillars construct silken shelters by tying leaves together about midway up the host plant. Heavy infestations are often very localized. When their food plants are consumed, large numbers of caterpillars migrate to adjacent areas, crawling up buildings and attacking lawns. Adults occur along wooded rows and weedy areas where they visit flowers for nectar. Adults visit wildflower to feed.
Pest Status, Damage: Caterpillars (larvae) occasionally injure Bermudagrass hay fields in northeastern Texas, reducing yield; medically harmless.
For additional information, contact your local Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent or search for other state Extension offices.
Literature: Knutson 1990.