Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hylephila Phyleus

Fall set in early, but when I wondered here whether or not the butterfly season was over, I was wrong. We are now raising Number 10 and 11 of our year’s flock of Black Swallowtail butterflies. And others are still very active in our yard.

Today I want to introduce a member of yet another Superfamily of the Lepidoptera, the Fiery Skipper. It belongs to the superfamily Hesperiodidea (a great word for practicing skill in keying). It consists of eight families, of which our little yellow creature is a member of one. Of the three superfamilies, we have now seen representatives of two. For an overview, herewith a tabulation:

The Butterfly Big Picture
Superfamily/Family
Names
In Our Yard
Hedyloidea
Moths
  Maybe
Hesperiodidea
Skippers
  Yes
    Hesperiinae
    Grass Skippers
      Fiery Skipper
    7 other families
  No
Papilionoidea
Butterflies
  Yes
    Lycaenidae
    Brush-footed
  No
    Nymphalidae
    Four-footed
      Common Buckeye, 
     Mourning Cloak
      Monarch
      Painted Lady
      Red Admiral
    Papilionidae
    Swallowtails
      Black Swallowtail
    Pieridae
    Whites
      Small Cabbage
    Riodinidae
    Metalmarks
  No

The fiery skipper is a quite small and a very quick-moving insect, especially as it hops around from bloom to bloom on our mint plants. It reveals itself as a butterfly only when it flies some distances, and then it looks like a miniature butterfly. The first picture I show, as close to a close-up as I’ve yet managed, reveals a creature I first took to be a bee with very big and colored wings. The Fiery Skipper actually has two sets of wings, nicely visible here.


There seem to be the same class distinctions between insects as there are in our society: the hoity-toity upper layers and then the massive humbler classes. The Fiery Skipper belongs to the latter group. In their world decorum, especially in public, is less cultivated—so that Brigitte observed a public mating no sooner than I’d learned to spell Skipper. She called me in excitement from the basement—and I rushed to take the second picture. In my haste, the focus is bad, but our testimony is true. You can also see how the Fiery Skipper looks from the side, its wings folded up. The wings are held like that for all serious activity—thus for eating and for mating.

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