Sunday, 24 August 2014

Small OR Essex?

For me the similarity between the Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris) and the Essex Skipper (Thymelicus lineola) is an identification dilemma.They look alike, share the same habitat and have a very similar flight period although the Essex appears slightly later at the end of June. The following images were taken of a single individual on 8th July this year.

Now I'm reasonably certain this is a male and one difference between these two species is the shape of the sex brands on the fore-wing; slightly curved on the Small Skipper and straight on the Essex. So based on the above image I'm hedging towards the Small Skipper.

During a recent butterfly foray with members of Butterfly Conservation I asked a couple of 'experts' the question ... "How do you tell the difference?" and I was somewhat puzzled by one response ... "Why would you want to know".  Even after showing them the images on the camera they were still non-committal.

Later on during the walk I watched another 'expert' use a magnifying glass to check the colour on the undersides of the tips of the antennae. Now most butterfly guides mention that this is the best distinguishing feature in order to separate these species. Black tips on the underside for the Essex and orange-brown on the Small. 

This final image could be the clincher. Although at first glance I thought the tip colour was black there is also a hint of brown so I'm sticking with my initial thought that this is a Small Skipper. If there are any experts out there that wish to comment, correct or agree, then please let me know.  FAB.

P.S. - Update: Thanks to some very helpful feedback from Bob and Trevor I am now certain that this individual was in fact a female Small Skipper.

For the latest post on FABirding .. 'The Blues' ... please click the link.


  1. Good on you for ferreting out an I.D. Sometimes I see skippers and wonder to myself if I really want to spend all that time back in the dark room parsing skippers! Ha! Sometimes I see one and think that it has distinctive markings only to spend a great deal of time figuring out what I'm looking at.

  2. You have a problem that I don't, in that we only have the Small Skipper up here and that only arrived three years ago! Are you sure that is a male? I can't see a sex brand. I recently found Essex Skippers in Spain and it took me ages to identify them. Then when I saw a Small Skipper here on my return the difference in the males seemed quite obvious! I still don't know which your pictures are, though!!

  3. Apparently you know more than the expert that you asked, so in my opinion that makes you the expert.

    Great images Frank.

  4. Great shots! Weel done, Frank!
    Have a happy new week!

  5. Very nice shots. Looks very much like a female Small Skipper. Apart from the antennae showing brown the underside of the top wing shows fading which is not so apparent in the Essex. Hope this helps.

    1. Thanks for your help Bob ... much appreciated.

  6. I love it for simply being a beautiful critter. I don't need any names *smile*

  7. As beautiful as it is nature never makes life easy for us, does it?...we enjoy the challenge though!
    I agree with the comment above, I think you've got a female Small Skipper here, the female doesn't display a sex brand, the black line on your image is just part of the normal wing 'vein' markings.

    I'm a bit surprised at the comments and the help you got from those so called 'experts'. I would have thought that they'd have been only to pleased to pass on some of their knowledge? I'm far from being an expert but I'm always ready to share my knowledge, such as it is, with anyone who asks.

    I've just emailed you a couple of images that will hopefully help with your ID'ing of these two butterflies....[;o)

    1. Cheers Trevor ... the e-mailed images were very helpful.


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